Apr 19, 2024 - Energy & Environment

EPA lists 2 common "forever chemicals" as Superfund hazardous substances

Part of a filtration system meant to remove PFAS from municipal water installed at a plant in Horsham, Pennsylvania, in 2019.

Part of a filtration system meant to remove PFAS from municipal water installed at a plant in Horsham, Pennsylvania, in 2019. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Two toxic, widely used "forever chemicals" are now classified as hazardous substances under a new rule that the Biden administration finalized on Friday.

Why it matters: The rule, under the federal Superfund law, will require companies to report any leaks of the two chemicals and will allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold polluters accountable by forcing them to clean up their contamination.

  • The rule builds on other recent actions that the Biden administration has taken to curb per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollution.
  • The EPA recently announced the first-ever drinking water standards targeting some of the synthetic compounds.

What they're saying: "Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on Friday.

The other side: The American Chemical Council, which represents major PFAS producers, in a statement on Friday said it "strongly" opposes the EPA's action.

  • It claimed the federal action was based on "severely flawed" science and was an "unworkable means to achieve remediation for these chemicals."

Threat level: PFAS are dubbed "forever chemicals" because they resist degradation by repelling oil and water and withstanding high temperatures.

Driving the news: The EPA's new rule only applies to two specific types of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — but there are over 12,000 different types of PFAS.

  • While PFOA and PFOS have been the most widely used PFAS throughout history, they are no longer produced in the U.S., as chemical manufacturers and other companies have turned to other PFAS in recent years.
  • However, PFOA and PFOS are still produced internationally and can be imported into the U.S. in consumer goods.
  • Because there are so many PFAS, multiple Environmental groups have called on the EPA to regulate the substances as a class instead of taking action against individual chemicals.

Zoom out: PFAS contamination is extensive throughout the U.S., with federal studies suggesting that the chemicals can be detected in almost half of the nation's tap water.

The big picture: In recent years, major chemical producers have agreed to pay billions to settle claims from U.S. water providers over their production and handling of PFAS.

Go deeper: EPA unveils new rules to curb toxic emissions at U.S. chemical plants

Editor's note: This story was updated with comment from The American Chemical Council.

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