The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is suggesting the classification of nine PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds) as hazardous, among the multitude of these persistent “forever chemicals.”
PFAS, known for their extended environmental and biological persistence, are present in numerous household items and water systems, with detectable levels in the blood of about 98% of the human population.
Recent studies have found that PFAS chemicals pose greater health risks than previously understood, being hazardous even at much lower concentrations than previously believed.
Exposure to PFAS is associated with reproductive problems, cardiovascular issues, asthma, compromised immune function, and some cancers. Although the EPA’s proposal targets nine PFAS, there are thousands of these chemicals used in the production of water-repelling coatings and various products like carpets, clothing, and cookware.
In the past year, the EPA introduced the initial national standard for PFAS in drinking water. This proposed regulatory change aims to streamline the government’s management of PFAS within its cleanup initiatives. The proposed changes are subject to a 60-day public comment period before becoming official.
The current proposal would change the definition of hazardous waste related to cleanups at authorized facilities and add common PFAS compounds, their salts, and structural isomers into the list of “hazardous constituents.”
According to EPA regulations, substances labeled as “hazardous constituents” must be proven harmful to human health or other life forms, demonstrating toxicity, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, or teratogenicity.
While the EPA’s move is seen as a positive step by environmentalists, groups like the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research and Policy Center advocate for a broader ban on the entire class of PFAS chemicals, given the existence of over 12,000 forms of PFAS in the environment.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said: “Thanks to strong partnerships with our co-regulators in the states, we will strengthen our ability to clean up contamination from PFAS, hold polluters accountable, and advance public health protections.”