EPA Designates PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous, a Major Shift Toward Accountability and Cleanup

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — In a move heralded as a watershed moment for environmental protection and public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday announced the designation of two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) — as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund Law.

This decisive action, aligning with the Biden administration’s broader environmental agenda, marks a pivotal shift in the federal approach to managing PFAS pollution, which has been linked to a host of severe health issues including cancer, liver disease, and birth defects. The designation enables the EPA to compel polluters to bear the financial burden of cleaning up contaminated sites, a measure that could have profound implications for affected communities and the chemical industry at large.

The announcement follows closely on the heels of the EPA setting the first-ever federal standards for PFAS in drinking water just two weeks prior, underscoring a concerted effort to tackle what has become a pervasive and insidious threat to public health and the environment.

PFAS, dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ due to their persistent nature, are a class of thousands of chemicals widely used in consumer products for their water, grease, and fire-resistant properties. Their resistance to breakdown in the environment has led to widespread contamination of drinking water systems across the United States, affecting millions of Americans. In Pennsylvania alone, at least 180 Superfund sites have been identified as contaminated with PFAS, with the Willow Grove Naval Air and Air Reserve Station among the most notable.

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The gravity of this issue was echoed by Stephanie Wein, Clean Water & Conservation Advocate with the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, who stated, “Listing PFOA and PFOS as toxic under the Superfund law is an important step to help eliminate these pervasive, dangerous chemicals from our lives.” Wein’s comments reflect a growing demand for robust measures to mitigate PFAS exposure and hold the chemical industry accountable for decades of environmental pollution.

By designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, the EPA not only paves the way for more effective cleanup efforts at contaminated sites but also sets a precedent for the regulation of other PFAS chemicals. This move is expected to catalyze a comprehensive strategy to phase out the use of PFAS, prevent their discharge into the environment, and ensure transparency and accountability from those responsible for their proliferation.

The implications of this policy shift are far-reaching. For communities long plagued by PFAS contamination, it offers a glimmer of hope for remediation and recovery. For the chemical industry, it signifies a call to reevaluate practices and invest in safer alternatives. And for policymakers, it underscores the importance of leveraging regulatory frameworks to safeguard public health and the environment.

As the EPA moves forward with implementing this landmark designation, the focus will inevitably turn to the effectiveness of cleanup operations, the response of the chemical industry, and the broader impact on reducing PFAS exposure among the general population. What is clear, however, is that Friday’s announcement represents a critical step toward confronting a problem that has, for too long, posed an invisible yet insidious threat to communities across the nation.

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