Chemicals, Regulatory Developments

EPA Pursues Data for Possible TRI Listing of Some PFAS

In its February 2019 Action Plan for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the EPA said it planned to consider listing some PFAS under the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) (Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and Section 6607 of the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA)). The Agency has now taken the first step in that process by asking the public for information that will aid in making a listing decision.

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Types of information the Agency is seeking include which PFAS should be evaluated for listing, how to list them, and what would be appropriate reporting thresholds, given their persistence and bioaccumulation potential.

Resistant and Persistent

PFAS comprise thousands of chemicals that were synthesized beginning in the 1940s. In basic chemistry terms, PFAS contain an alkyl carbon chain on which the hydrogen atoms are partially or completely replaced by fluorine atoms. The strong carbon-fluorine bonds of PFAS make them resistant to degradation and useful in a wide array of consumer and industrial products, including firefighting foams, chemical processing, building/construction, aerospace, electronics, semiconductor and automotive industries, stain- and water-resistant carpets and rain-repellent clothing, food packaging, and waxes and cleaners. Resistance to degradation also means PFAS are highly persistent in the environment. Studies have shown that human exposure to PFAS is widespread and that most people in the United States have measurable amounts of PFAS in their blood.

Currently, approximately 600 PFAS are manufactured (including imported) and/or used in the United States. The two PFAS that have been studied the most are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Due to a voluntary phaseout under the PFOA Stewardship Program, PFOA and PFOS are no longer produced domestically by the companies participating in the program. However, PFOA and PFOS may still be produced domestically, imported, and used by companies not participating in the program. PFOA and PFOS may also be present in imported articles.

Listing Factors

Under TRI, certain facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use listed toxic chemicals in amounts above reporting threshold levels must report their environmental releases and other waste management quantities of such chemicals annually to the EPA and the states. These facilities must also report pollution prevention and recycling data for the listed chemicals.

In considering whether to add a substance to the TRI list of chemicals, the EPA considers three factors: whether the substance can reasonably be anticipated to have acute human health effects, whether it can reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer in people, and whether it may have a significant adverse effect on the environment. The Agency may add a substance to the TRI list if it finds that any one of these factors has been satisfied. The EPA bases its listing decision on the chemical’s hazard (i.e.,toxicity), not the risk (i.e.,toxicity plus potential exposures) related to that chemical. While the toxicity of PFOA and PFOS has been studied extensively, there is less data available for other PFAS.

Information Sought

The EPA is requesting information on the following:

  • Which of the approximately 600 PFAS currently active in U.S. commerce should the EPA consider when evaluating for potential addition to the TRI list of chemicals.
  • Data available to inform how to list PFAS, i.e.,as individual chemical listings, as a single category, as multiple categories, or as a combination of individual listings and category listings.
  • The appropriate reporting thresholds for PFAS. Reporting thresholds should be set at an appropriate level to capture most of the releases of PFAS from the facilities that submit TRI reports. The usual statutory thresholds are 25,000 pounds for manufacturing or processing and 10,000 pounds for other use. The Agency notes that it is considering lower thresholds for PFAS because of their persistence in the environment.
  • Any additional information on human health and environmental toxicity, persistence, and bioaccumulation of PFAS that would determine if they meet the EPCRA Section 313 listing criteria.

Comments must be received by the EPA on or before February 3, 2020.