Despite EPA roadmap, Congress must tackle industrial ‘forever chemicals’ discharges

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued a long-awaited road map for tackling the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. But it falls short on industrial discharges of PFAS, so Congress must pass legislation to quickly and comprehensively restrict them.

Contamination from PFAS chemicals is an urgent public health crisis. Over 2,800 known sites of PFAS detections affect the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans.

PFAS chemicals are associated with serious health effects, including increased risk of some cancers, reproductive and developmental harms, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines.

The EPA must act swiftly to restrict industrial discharges of PFAS, which have caused significant contamination in places like the Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina, Parkersburg, W.V., Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Belmont, Mich. 

And the full extent of the problem is likely far bigger. EWG’s recent analysis identified nearly 42,000 potential industrial dischargers in the U.S.

But the EPA’s “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” which outlines steps the agency will take through 2024 to address PFAS releases into the water and air, falls short of the bold action required.

It offers only rough timelines for regulating or collecting data on PFAS in wastewater for 11 different categories of industrial polluters. The road map says the EPA will:

  • Release a draft rule to regulate discharges from PFAS manufacturing facilities by summer 2023.
  • Release a draft rule to regulate PFAS discharges from electroplating and metal finishing facilities by summer 2024.
  • Complete studies of PFAS discharges from landfills and textile and electronics manufacturers by fall 2022.
  • Complete reviews of PFAS discharges from leather tanners, plastics molders and paint formulators by winter 2023.
  • Continue to monitor discharges from paper mills and airports, where it anticipates the use of PFAS will be phased out.

The road map builds on an earlier agency plan to regulate wastewater pollution. That plan committed only to developing regulations to cut PFAS water discharges for two industries – PFAS manufacturers and chrome-plating facilities.

The EPA’s commitment to eventually regulate more industrial discharges of PFAS is a good step, but the road map lacks deadlines for issuing final rules. And it’s unclear when the EPA will even propose to regulate most of the industries it is currently studying.

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Congress must act to force stricter, faster EPA regulation of PFAS

By contrast, the House of Representatives has twice passed legislation, the Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, that would require the EPA to finalize PFAS wastewater discharge limits within four years for nine industry categories. Those deadlines would be legally enforceable and much earlier than what the EPA has suggested in the road map.

The road map also makes only soft commitments on limiting air emissions of PFAS – by fall 2022, the agency will consider options for cleaning up PFAS pollution in the air. That could include adding PFAS to the Clean Air Act list of hazardous air pollutants that the EPA regulates. But it’s unclear when the agency would make that designation or finalize regulations limiting emissions.

Legislation introduced this week by Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) would directly add some PFAS to the air law’s hazardous air pollutants list and require the EPA to make decisions about other PFAS within five years. The EPA would also be forced to finalize air emission limits within five years of adding PFAS to the list of regulated hazardous air pollutants.

Congress must also step in to ensure the EPA has the resources it needs to quickly issue robust PFAS regulations and meet its road map goals. With more funding and staffing in next year’s budget, the agency would be in a stronger position to meet the deadlines in these key pieces of legislation, in addition to the other targets in its road map.

If Congress acts quickly, it can give the EPA firm deadlines to turn off the tap on PFAS discharges. Communities downstream from polluting facilities deserve swift action, because they have already suffered the consequences of decades of inaction from polluters and regulators.

Tell Congress: Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

We need your help to protect our water from toxic PFAS chemicals.

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