WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to propose a new rule, asking chemical companies to provide information on the production and discharge of the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, which could lead to regulations limiting PFAS discharges into water or wastewater.
Today, the EPA published in the Federal Register an advance notice of the proposal, asking industry to provide such information under the Clean Water Act. The EPA is asking for the information as it considers creating “effluent limitation guidelines" to limit PFAS discharges into surface waters or sent to wastewater treatment facilities.
Those regulations may also include requirements for new PFAS monitoring, which would provide information about ongoing releases into the environment. Information already collected by the EPA identified PFAS discharges from six PFAS manufacturers and three PFAS formulators, including one detection of 777 parts per billion.
Exposure to very low levels of PFAS chemicals is linked to an array of health effects, including cancer, reproductive harms and immune system harms. PFAS are not currently regulated under the Clean Water Act, although they contaminate more than 2,300 sites nationwide and contaminate the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. EWG estimates there are more than 2,500 industrial dischargers of PFAS.
“Today’s action is a necessary first step toward long overdue industry-wide regulations on PFAS discharges,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at EWG. “However, this is only a first step. The EPA must act quickly to use the information it collects to set health-protective limits on PFAS discharges and expand regulations to the other industries responsible for contaminating our rivers, ground water and communities with these toxic chemicals.”
There are few regulations on industrial discharges of PFAS into the environment, which makes it hard to know where and how much PFAS is being released into the environment and contaminating nearby communities.
The notice released today would cover only a small subset of dischargers – those that manufacture PFAS chemicals and those that formulate PFAS-based chemical mixtures like Teflon.
The notice does not cover manufacturers of consumer products containing PFAS, such as paper mills or carpet manufacturers, or other industrial users of PFAS, like electroplaters, though the EPA is also studying PFAS discharges from those sources.
Some like Michigan, have taken steps to limit PFAS releases by imposing pretreatment standards on some industrial dischargers. Michigan initiated this program in 2018 and has already seen success in reducing PFAS discharges. In some cases, the new requirements in Michigan reduced discharges to municipal wastewater treatment plants by 49 to 99 percent.
In addition to regulating industrial discharges under the Clean Water Act, the EPA should quickly:
- Designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Superfund law.
- Create a health-protective drinking water limit for PFAS chemicals.
- Regulate PFAS air emissions.
- Create health-protective PFAS disposal requirements.
- Impose a moratorium on new PFAS chemicals and new uses of existing PFAS chemicals.
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. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.