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On October 18, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its comprehensive Strategic Roadmap to tackle per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. The roadmap focuses on increasing investments in research, leveraging authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released, and accelerating cleanup of PFAS contamination.
Under this roadmap, more and more facilities are starting to be directly impacted by mitigation efforts and pending regulatory action. Just recently, EPA took the following actions to protect individuals and communities from the health risks posed by these “forever chemicals”.
Proposed Hazardous Substances Under Superfund
On August 26, 2022, EPA has issued a proposal to seek public comment on designating two of the most widely used PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka Superfund). This proposal applies to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including salts and structural isomers.
Like other PFAS, PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time. The intent of this rulemaking is twofold:
- Increase transparency around releases of PFOA and PFOS; and
- Help hold polluters accountable for cleaning up their contamination.
If finalized, the rulemaking would trigger reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases, providing the EPA with improved data and the option to require cleanups/recover cleanup costs. According to EPA, a release of PFOA, PFOS, or any other hazardous substance does not always add a site to the National Priorities List (NPL), necessitate cleanup, or result in an enforcement action.
EPA suggests this potential rulemaking would:
- Improve EPA, state, Tribal nation, and local community understanding of the extent and locations of PFOA and PFOS contamination throughout the country.
- Help communities avoid or reduce contact with these potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Encourage better waste management and treatment practices by facilities handling PFOA or PFOS.
- Potentially accelerate privately financed cleanups and mitigate potential adverse impacts.
- Allow EPA to recover cleanup costs from a potentially response party or require such a party to conduct the cleanup.
- Better protect public health.
EPA anticipates issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the next several weeks and will seek public comment once that is published.
Removal from Pesticide Products
On September 1, 2022, EPA proposed to remove 12 chemicals identified as PFAS from the current list of inert ingredients approved for use in pesticide products. Unlike active ingredients, inert ingredients are used to enhance pesticide effectiveness and product performance (e.g., extend shelf life, improve ease of application). EPA reviews safety information for inert ingredients before they can be included in a pesticide.
While these 12 PFAS are no longer used in any registered pesticides, EPA decided to remove the chemicals from the list of approved inert ingredients to prevent any further requested use in pesticide products.
EPA continues to evaluate pesticide active ingredients to determine if any meet the definition of PFAS or create other concerns.
Study on Leaching
In a recent study released on September 8, 2022, EPA confirmed that plastic containers made of fluorinated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are likely to leach PFAS substances into pesticides and other liquid products that are stored in them. The data shows that the amount of PFAS that migrates into liquid products increases with storage time. This study further demonstrates the persistent and cumulative nature of PFAS.
KTL does not see the challenges associated with PFAS going away any time soon. If anything, we anticipate more facilities will be directly impacted by mitigation efforts and regulatory action to support the Strategic Roadmap, such as those outlined above. Proper usage strategies, a comprehensive environmental management system (EMS), and a forward-thinking Emergency Response Plan will remain vital tools for companies potentially dealing with PFAS to effectively manage the associated risks.
If you are facing challenges related to PFAS or would just like a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your current environmental risk level, please contact KTL. Our staff has hands-on experience assessing environmental risks and developing strategies to minimize them to the extent possible. Our team writes Emergency Response Plans and routinely works with Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises to keep communities informed and safe. In addition, we have a strong network of partners that can assist with testing and remediation strategies, when necessary.