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EPA to Regulate PFAS Chemicals by 2023

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to address a subset of a broad group of fluorinated substances called PFAS, in part through rules on the presence of certain types of PFAS in drinking water.

The potential hazard: PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which include thousands of diverse substances developed over decades. Modern PFAS compounds make innovative products possible, including personal protective equipment, lifesaving medical devices, fuel cells, solar panels and low-emission vehicles. However, a few retired formulations could pose a risk—and in high enough concentration, some of those old formulations have been correlated with illnesses.

The fix: The EPA’s overall plan is a science-based approach focused on researching diverse PFAS substances and restricting the release of the ones found to pose risks. Its efforts will also focus on strengthening legacy cleanup efforts, especially at Department of Defense sites.

  • The agency hopes to propose an enforceable drinking water limit in the fall of 2022 for the subset of chemicals that might pose a risk and to finalize those rules the following year. 
  • It also plans to publish additional assessments on the toxicity of other types of PFAS starting this fall. 

Manufacturers take action: The EPA plans to require manufacturers to conduct studies to test for the substances as soon as the end of 2021. The agency also plans to declare the legacy substances PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under the country’s Superfund cleanup law—a designation that may unfortunately slow the speed of legacy site remediation.

A multiagency approach: According to a memo from the White House, the Defense Department is conducting cleanup assessments at 700 installations. The Food and Drug Administration will expand its food testing, and the Agriculture Department is supporting research on diverse PFAS substances in the food system.  

What we’re saying: “What jumps out from this action plan is that EPA is recognizing that these thousands of compounds are remarkably different and should be addressed that way,” said NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Rachel Jones. “They are committing to taking a science-based approach and working with communities and companies to ensure we can protect people while still benefiting from safe, modern chemistries.”

What we’re doing: Reporting is the first thing that will impact NAM members, and the NAM is committed to helping the EPA make this initiative a success. That’s why the NAM advised the EPA on how to thoughtfully tailor the reporting requirements to receive the highest quality and most actionable information. 

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