Forever Chemicals in the United States: How the EPA is Taking Action Against PFAS

Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, have become one of the biggest concerns in environmental chemical compliance in recent years. PFAS can have a significant negative impact on both human health and the environment, and because these chemicals are hard to break down, they continue to cause harm in the long term. This is why you may often hear them referred to as “forever chemicals.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently begun addressing PFAS more strategically. While the measures the EPA is taking are not as sweeping as the proposal to ban PFAS in the EU, the new EPA decisions could affect your product compliance.

What Are PFAS?

PFAS are a group of mostly man-made substances that have been widely used in manufacturing and consumer products. They are made with a strong chemical bond, which makes them difficult to break down. This durability means they have been used for things like stain-resistant fabric and non-stick coatings.

However, this strong bond also means that PFAS persist in the environment without breaking down. This can be harmful to both the environment and human health.

The EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap

Under the Biden Administration, the EPA has created a new PFAS Strategic Roadmap. This plan is meant to guide the EPA in better understanding and restricting the use of PFAS.

There are three central directives in the EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap:

  1. Research — The EPA is committing to focus on PFAS research so they can understand their toxicity, exposure, and what interventions can be done.
  2. Restrict — The EPA plans to restrict the use of PFAS to prevent them from entering the environment at harmful levels.
  3. Remediate — The EPA plans to work to clean up areas and communities already adversely impacted by PFAS and work to protect people and the environment.

How the EPA Is Taking Action Against PFAS

The EPA has already started taking action to address the use of PFAS. Here are a few key announcements that have been made recently. You can read about even more PFAS action on the EPA website.

Proposed PFAS Reporting in Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Reporting

In December 2022, the EPA proposed a new requirement to improve PFAS reporting when companies submit their TRI reports. Previously, many companies were exempt from including small amounts of PFAS in their reporting. The EPA is now proposing to eliminate those de minimis exemptions so that all PFAS in products are disclosed.

Proposed Inactive PFAS Significant New Use Rule

In January 2023, the EPA proposed a new rule that would eliminate the manufacturing, processing, or use of an estimated 300 “inactive PFAS” without EPA approval. These PFAS are substances that have not been used for several years, but their use could be resumed. With this rule, companies would not be allowed to use these PFAS unless the EPA performed a risk assessment and granted approval.

Funding From Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Address PFAS in Drinking Water

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law specifically addresses delivering clean water to families across the country. In February 2023, the EPA announced that $2 billion of the funding from that law would be available for the EPA to tackle PFAS and emerging contaminants in drinking water. These funds will provide grants to small, rural, and disadvantages communities across the US to address drinking water issues.

Proposed National Drinking Water Standard PFAS Limit

In March 2023, the EPA proposed a rule that would limit the levels of six PFAS found in drinking water. Many states are already working on limiting PFAS in drinking water, and this rule would set a legal standard for the amount of these six PFAS that can be present in drinking water.

What To Do About PFAS in Your Products and Manufacturing

As rules and laws restricting the use of PFAS continue to expand, understanding the PFAS your company uses in either manufacturing processes or in products is crucial.

The first step is to analyze your products and manufacturing processes to determine the amount and level of PFAS. You will need to communicate with your supply chain to fully understand the chemical makeup of your products and perform a deep dive into your manufacturing processes to understand where PFAS might be being released into the environment.

Wherever PFAS are being used, you will want to start looking for alternative substances. While the new EPA proposals are not as strict as the upcoming PFAS bans in the European Union (EU), it can be expected that US restrictions on PFAS will continue to grow in relation to public concern for PFAS. If you start seeking out alternative substances now, you will be ready for any possible further PFAS restrictions.

Get Support from Tetra Tech

Concern about PFAS found in the environment is growing across the world, and we can expect further restrictions and rules about the use of PFAS from the EPA. Start preparing now and get ready to comply with the new rules the EPA has already proposed with support from Tetra Tech.

We can help you identify PFAS in your products, survey your supply chain, and seek out alternative substances. Contact us today at [email protected] and learn how we can help you build a sustainable future.


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