The EPA for the first time plans to list ubiquitous nonstick chemicals as hazardous substances under the nation’s Superfund law by year’s end, the agency’s top drinking water official said April 9.
The agency will issue a proposal to list perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), on the agency’s list of hazardous substances, Jennifer McLain, acting director for the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, told participants gathered at the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) spring meeting April 9.
The EPA’s move leapfrogs possible congressional action, as dozens of lawmakers have sought to compel the agency to list the chemicals. A listing would give the agency power to force companies to clean up any sites where the chemicals are found.
The PFAS family includes thousands of chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS. They have been used to manufacture nonstick and stain-resistant coatings in clothing, fast-food wrappers, carpets, and other consumer and industrial products.
U.S. companies stopped making the two compounds several years ago, but multiple sites still contain the chemicals and some imports continue.
Should the proposal be finalized—a move backed by states and several members of Congress—states would also be able to recover cleanup costs from companies that manufactured the chemicals or spilled them at sites.
The EPA is also looking to set drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, but that process is still in the early stages.
Some States Seek Faster Action
Every state comes with its “pressure points,” with some seeking faster action, while others want to wait and see if the EPA has a plan for cleanup, Becky Keogh, director of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and current president of ECOS, told Bloomberg Environment.
But, “we have encouraged him to make sure that timeliness is a priority for EPA,” she said about EPA’s Wheeler, as some states face immediate needs on the issue.
New Jersey is one such state that isn’t waiting for the EPA to act. It has already set a drinking water standard of 13 parts per trillion for perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and has just proposed drinking water standards of 13 parts per trillion for PFOS and 14 parts per trillion for PFOA, Catherine McCabe, commissioner of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview.
Regarding the EPA’s plan to list these two chemicals as hazardous substances, McCabe said, it would help EPA in cleaning up contaminated sites, but it would not necessarily trigger any regulations under other laws.
But without a national drinking water standard, cleanup of water will revert to state standards, she said. New Jersey’s interim standard for PFOA- or PFOS-laced groundwater found at Superfund sites is 10 parts per trillion.
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