EPA hazardous substance designation holds polluters accountable for ‘forever chemicals’

 WASHINGTON – Today the Environmental Protection Agency finalizeda rule to hold polluters responsible for contamination they caused with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

To hold polluters’ feet to the fire, the EPA designated two of the most notorious and well-studied PFAS as hazardous substances under a federal cleanup law. The rule gives the EPA new tools to address the PFAS crisis at sites across the U.S.

The rule will allow the EPA to recover costs from polluters for its cleanup of sites contaminated by the forever chemicals PFOA and PFOS. The agency issued the rule using authority in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, better known as Superfund. 

The EPA also announced today that only PFAS polluters – not water utilities, landfills and other minor contributors to site contamination – will be held responsible for PFAS cleanup costs. This approach ensures the companies that caused the problem pay for it.

“For far too long, the unchecked use and disposal of toxic PFAS have wreaked havoc on our planet, contaminating everything from our drinking water to our food supply,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., deputy director of investigations and a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. 

“Urgent action is needed to clean up contaminated sites, eliminate future release of these pollutants and shield people from additional exposure,” he added.

PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard, were phased out in the U.S. under pressure from the EPA, citing the chemicals’ health risks. But contamination from these and other PFAS lingers, with polluters trying to avoid paying to clean up sites.

PFAS are known as forever chemicals because once released into the environment they do not break down and they can build up in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected PFAS in the blood of 99 percent of Americans, including newborn babies

For decades, DuPont and 3M hid the health harms of PFAS from regulators, workers and neighboring communities. PFAS have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, immune system damage and other serious health problems, even at low levels. 

“The rule will finally hold PFAS polluters accountable,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president for government affairs. “It ensures that polluters, not taxpayers, bear the cost of cleaning up these toxic forever chemicals. 

“President Joe Biden pledged to make PFAS a priority in 2020 as part of the Biden-Harris plan to secure environmental justice. Today the Biden EPA fulfilled this important promise,” she added.

Although PFAS polluters knew their forever chemicals were toxic, they failed to warn their workers, neighbors or regulators – often in violation of federal law. 

“The designation will also increase transparency about releases of PFOA and PFOS into the environment,” Benesh added.

This designation of the two chemicals will also ensure that hundreds of Department of Defense installations with PFOA and PFOS contamination are finally cleaned up.  

“Nearly 500 military installations are contaminated with PFAS, but the DOD has failed to make PFAS cleanup a priority – and our service members and defense communities are paying the price,” said Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst at EWG. 

"Today the Biden administration will finally give the communities suffering from PFAS exposure the help they need,” said Hayes.


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) 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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