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EPA Floats Ideas for Industries to Report Some PFAS Releases (2)

Nov. 25, 2019, 3:41 PMUpdated: Nov. 25, 2019, 8:27 PM

The EPA asked Nov. 25 for information and opinions as to whether it should require companies and federal facilities that make or use certain “forever chemicals” to report when they are released and how they are managed.

The Environmental Protection Agency published online a preregulatory notice describing ways it could revise the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program to obtain information on the releases of some per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, by industrial and federal facilities.

“I started at the agency as a career employee in the TRI program, and exploring the addition of certain PFAS chemicals to the TRI is an important step that can enhance this tool and provide important information to the public on these chemicals for the first time,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release.

The agency didn’t immediately respond to a query on when the advance notice of proposed rulemaking will be published, nor does its notice describe which PFAS might have to be reported.

The agency invited information on the approximately 600 PFAS that are made in or imported into the U.S. That information could help the agency decide whether at least some of those chemicals should be reported to the agency, the notice said.

The notice does not, however, identify the 600 PFAS that are in commerce, nor did the agency immediately reply to a question about how individuals wanting to provide information about the chemicals would know whether they’re being made or imported.

No PFAS Currently Reported

No PFAS are subject to reporting, but some have attributes that could justify their inclusion, the EPA’s notice said. For example, some PFAS may be toxic, persistent in the environment, and accumulate in wildlife and humans, it said.

The TRI program requires typically larger federal facilities and companies in the sectors of manufacturing, metal mining, electric power generation, and hazardous waste treatment to report annually how much of each listed chemical is released to the environment or managed through recycling, energy recovery, and treatment.

A release of a chemical means it is emitted to the air or water, or placed in some type of land disposal. The information is then available for companies, state and local governments, nonprofit groups, and the public.

House Panel Seeks Quicker Action

It would be several years before any PFAS could be added to the program if the agency decides to do so, because a formal rulemaking would need to follow this advanced notice.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, meanwhile, approved legislation on Nov. 20 that would add specific PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory program much sooner than the EPA is considering. The committee approved H.R. 535, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, which would require that the EPA require release data for at least 13 PFAS within a year of the bill’s passage.

PFAS are used to make products as medical equipment, nonstick cookware, grease-resistant food packaging, and specialized firefighting foams.

Because PFAS have been used for decades to make thousands of industrial, commercial, medical, and consumer most people in the United States have been exposed to the chemicals, the agency said.

Some of those chemicals remain in the body for months or years, and have been linked to health problems including higher cholesterol, birth defects, and cancer, according to the EPA.

Some PFAS pass through the placenta and breast milk to infants and can weaken the immune system, said physician Alan Ducatman, professor emeritus with West Virginia University, during a PFAS webinar Nov. 19.

West Virginia University has helped research the human health effects of one particular perfluorinated chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is among the chemicals the EPA may add to the Toxics Release Inventory.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com