EPA Cranks up PFAS Regulation Plans

23.03.2023 - After years of little or no movement on regulation of per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), Europe and the US, separately, are now preparing legislation to contain them.

The substances present in products ranging from non-stick coatings to semiconductors are colloquially known as “forever chemicals” because they are hard to decompose and persistent in soil and drinking water.

Acting on a proposal put forward in January by the environmental authorities of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) got on the case in February.  

Under new administrator Michael Regan, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which actually began evaluating the ubiquitous chemicals much earlier, is now making rapid catch-up strides with a plan to banish them from drinking water.

The proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) would cover six PFAS including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, branded as GenX), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS).

Exposure to these chemicals has not only been linked only to cancer, but also can cause liver damage, fertility and thyroid problems, as well as asthma, the EPA said.

“This is the first time in US history that we’ve set enforceable limits for PFAS pollution,” Regan said, noting that the agency’s new rules will mandate “near-zero” concentrations of PFAS in drinking water supplies. At the same time, however, he stressed that this low limit will not always be quantifiable and therefore enforceable.

For the six chemicals, EPA wants to set health-based, non-enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs) in drinking water. For PFOA and PFOS, the guidance is that concentrations should not exceed 4.0 parts per trillion (ng/L), along with a 1.0 ng/L limit for PFHxS.

The dangers of other PFAS, including the GenX fluorosurfactant used by DuPont chemicals spin-off Chemours to replace the PFOA formerly used to make the Teflon-branded non-stick coatings, would be assessed as a potential “hazard”. Environmental NGOs contend that GenX is not substantially safer than PFOA.

Regan said the EPA intends to finalize the new regulations by the end of this year and expects that, if fully implemented, they will “prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious PFAS-attributable illnesses.”

The agency’s timetable foresees soliciting public comment following the publication of the proposals in the Federal Register. In addition to two webinars in March, EPA has scheduled a public hearing for May 4.

Chemsec says 180 companies back its campaign

In Europe, just before ECHA kicked off a six-month consultation process on its new PFAS legislation, environmental NGO ChemSec announced that consumer brands worth more than €130 billion in annual sales have lined up to support the proposed ban and that investors with assets in PFAS-producing companies are calling for an end to production. 

Altogether 108 companies from the fashion, home goods, food and personal care sectors, including several cookware manufacturers, have joined its PFAS Movement advocacy campaign, the NGO said. Many of them are making now making their voices heard as the EU invites the public to give its opinions on the proposed ban, it added.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist