EPA plan to curb industrial ‘forever chemicals’ discharges must go faster

WASHINGTON – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft biannual plan, Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15, identifying actions the EPA plans to take to regulate wastewater pollution. In it, the EPA announced plans for a Clean Water Act rule to curb discharges of PFAS known as “forever chemicals” from some industries, but the effort will take years to complete and would affect as few as 14 specific facilities.

The EPA also announced that it will update metal finishing regulations to limit PFAS discharges from chrome plating facilities.  

The rulemakings, known as effluent limitation guidelines, or ELGs, would address discharges from designated manufacturers of PFAS or those that create mixtures of PFAS. These represent only a subset of likely dischargers and the plan excludes facilities that use PFAS in other applications like paper mills, tanneries, textile manufacturers, plastics molders, and metal finishers other than chrome platers.

Industrial discharges of PFAS have caused significant contamination in places like the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina and Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The Environmental Working Group has used EPA enforcement data to identify nearly 30,000 potential industrial dischargers, many of which would not be included in the forthcoming ELGs.

“Today’s action leaves behind many communities contaminated by unfettered industrial discharges of toxic PFAS,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG. “There are thousands of industrial facilities using PFAS and regulating those discharges on an industry-by-industry basis will take decades. That’s unfair to the people whose water is contaminated today. The EPA must be given the resources and the direction to work faster to regulate PFAS discharges from multiple industries.”

In response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the EPA in March, EWG called for quickly addressing PFAS discharges from additional industries.

Some lawmakers are also seeking to force broader action by the EPA. The Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would require the agency to develop ELGs and water standards for PFAS in nine different industry categories within four years.

A version of the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act was included in the PFAS Action Act that cleared the House in July, and the in House-passed version of the $715 million water and transportation infrastructure bill known as the INVEST Act.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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