The White House EPA announced on Monday plans, ongoing efforts, and research eight agencies have undertaken to reduce PFAS in the nation’s air, water, land, and food.
They include the EPA’s Roadmap, a three-year strategy describing specific regulations with deadlines for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that the Environmental Protection Agency will issue and research it will do to understand where additional controls may be needed.
The White House released its strategy and announced the EPA’s roadmap prior to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee Oct. 20 hearing on the federal response to PFAS.
The scope of agencies involved highlights the breadth of industries that may be affected by the federal effort. They are: the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the departments of Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
CEQ, to show its commitment to the PFAS problem, will hold the first meeting of a newly-formed Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS on Monday, led by the council’s leader, Brenda Mallory.
“This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement announcing the roadmap.
“Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable,” Regan added.
Water, Waste, Commerce
The EPA’s planned rules include releasing by fall 2023 final drinking water limits for the two most-studied and particularly hazardous PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
The agency will propose designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous Superfund substances by spring 2022. Included would be a requirement for industrial and other sites to report PFOA and PFOS releases at or above the EPA’s set threshold..
Further orders will come this year requiring chemical manufacturers to submit a spectrum of physical characteristics, environmental, and other data needed to understand PFAS.
The EPA is exploring its Toxic Substances Control Act authorities to decide what regulations or other actions may be warranted to restrict or reduce the 650 PFAS being used in commerce.
The agency will propose limits to the amount of PFAS that chemical, plastics, and synthetic fiber manufacturers can release into water by summer 2023. The agency expects to propose limits for the electroplating and metal finishing industries by summer 2024.
Other sectors the agency is eyeing for possible discharge limits include airports, electrical equipment manufacturers, pulp and paper mills, landfills, and textile and carpet manufacturers.
The EPA expects to complete a risk assessment of PFOA and PFOS in biosolids by the winter of 2024 to determine if regulations are needed. Biosolids, or treated sewage waste, are used in many states to fertilize crops. But this type of fertilizer has resulted in PFAS getting into the food supply and
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Defense, Emergency Response
The Department of Defense, which has used specialized firefighting foams containing PFAS for decades to quickly put out jet fuel and other fires, has contaminated aquifers and other waters across the country.
The White House’s plans don’t include a DOD commitment, but say the department expects to complete evaluations of 700 contaminated sites by the end of 2023.
The Department of Homeland Security also operates fire-fighting training and other facilities that have released PFAS. A new DHS-wide Emerging Contaminants Working Group will be coordinating its PFAS-remediation efforts, the White House said.
PFAS are a group of thousands of chemicals including hundreds actively used in commerce to give industrial equipment and consumer products special electrical as well as heat-, oil-, water-, and corrosion-resistant properties.
The group is often dubbed “forever chemicals” because some of the chemicals linger for decades in people’s bodies and seemingly forever in the environment. The PFAS of concern also have been linked to health problems such as cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened immune systems.
The many concerns about PFAS have triggered lawsuits aimed at DOD, chemical producers including 3M Co., Chemours Co., and DuPont de Nemours, Inc., and companies such as Taconic and Wolverine World Wide, Inc. that use PFAS to make thousands of consumer, telecommunications, medical, and other products that society values.