On February 1, 2024, the EPA announced two new proposed regulations to protect communities and the environment from the health risks posed by certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that are also referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their resistance to breaking down in the environment over time. They’ve been produced by a variety of industries since 1940 for use in many consumer products such as paint, nonstick Teflon, cleaning and personal care products, and food packaging materials. PFAS are known for their water- and stain-repellant materials and have been used in fast-acting firefighting products.
PFAS contamination in people can occur through consumption of contaminated food or water and through skin absorption and has been linked to a host of health issues, including cancer, immune system deficiencies, liver damage, negative developmental effects in infants and children, lower fertility rates, and increased cholesterol.
“From day one, President Biden promised to address harmful forever chemicals and other emerging contaminants to better protect communities from exposure, and today’s actions are just the latest from EPA as we continue to deliver on the president’s commitment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in an Agency news release. “Thanks to strong partnerships with our co-regulators in the states, we will strengthen our ability to clean up contamination from PFAS, hold polluters accountable and advance public health protections.”
Hazardous waste definition
The first newly proposed regulation by the EPA is a modification to the definition of hazardous waste as it applies to cleanups at permitted hazardous waste facilities.
The proposed rule would provide clear regulatory authority to fully implement the EPA’s statutory authority to require corrective action to address releases not only of substances identified as hazardous waste in the regulations but also of any substance that meets the statutory definition of hazardous waste. This modification would ensure the EPA’s regulations clearly reflect its and authorized states’ authority to require cleanup of the full range of substances that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) intended, including emerging chemicals of concern, such as PFAS, that may present substantial hazards, at permitted facilities. Currently, the regulations don’t clearly and accurately reflect the full authorities granted to the EPA by Congress.
While this proposed rule wouldn’t specifically address PFAS, it would facilitate the use of the RCRA Corrective Action Program, which requires facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes to investigate and clean up contaminated soil, groundwater, and surface water.
Amended RCRA regulations
The EPA is also proposing to amend its RCRA regulations to add nine PFAS compounds, their salts, and structural isomers as hazardous constituents:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid
- Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid
- Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid
- Hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid
- Perfluorononanoic acid
- Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid
- Perfluorodecanoic acid
- Perfluorohexanoic acid
- Perfluorobutanoic acid
These PFAS would be added to the list of substances identified for consideration in facility assessments and, where necessary, further investigation and cleanup through the corrective action process at hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.
“With this proposal, EPA is working to protect communities by strengthening its ability to address PFAS contamination under the…RCRA Corrective Action Program,” notes the EPA Appendix VIII website. “This change would facilitate additional corrective action to address releases of these specific PFAS at RCRA hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities. It would not require the suite of cradle to grave management controls that are associated with a RCRA hazardous waste.” Comments will be accepted on the proposed rule for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register under Docket # EPA-HQ-OLEM-2023-0278. See the prepublication version here.