What they’re saying about the EPA’s ‘hazardous substances’ designation for two PFAS

On April 19, the Environmental Protection Agency designated two of the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, better known as Superfund.

This designation for the chemicals PFOA and PFOS will hold polluters accountable for contaminating sites with these substances and jumpstart long-overdue cleanup at such sites across the U.S., including Department of Defense bases and elsewhere.

It comes just days after the Biden administration separately finalized historic first-time limits on six PFAS in drinking water: PFOA, PFOS, GenX, PFBS, PFNA and PFHxS.

In collaboration with Safer States, EWG has below compiled excerpts from statements by environmental, health and community advocacy leaders and organizations about the EPA’s CERCLA announcement, which marks more historic progress in tackling the PFAS contamination crisis.

Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, supervising senior attorney, Earthjustice: “It just got a lot harder for Chemours, Dow, and other polluters to pass the costs of their PFAS releases off on impacted communities and taxpayers. These designations will give PFAS-contaminated sites the attention they deserve, and we support EPA’s plans to ensure the parties most responsible for such contamination bear the costs of cleaning it up.” Statement

Sarah Doll, national director, Safer States: “For years, communities that have been exposed to these chemicals have been demanding that polluters be held accountable for the harm they have created and to pay for cleanup. States will continue to act to reduce use of PFAS and cleanup contamination. This new EPA action will complement state actions and make it easier to hold them accountable and clean up contaminated sites. We applaud EPA for taking this step and encourage them to take the next step and list all PFAS under the Superfund law.” Statement

Ken Cook, president, EWG: It’s long past time for the polluters who poisoned all of us to be held responsible. This comes too late for all the people who were poisoned without their knowledge or consent and have paid the price for one of the greatest environmental crimes in history. But today’s designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances is the first step to bring justice to those who have been harmed.”

David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG deputy director of investigations and senior scientist: “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. Urgent action is needed to clean up contaminated sites, eliminate future release of these pollutants and shield people from additional exposure.” Statement

Dana Sargent, executive director, Cape Fear River Watch: “We support EPA’s designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances and look forward to EPA using its discretion to focus enforcement on the polluters who have contaminated our communities for profit. This designation should pave the way for EPA to designate the class of PFAS as hazardous.”

Lisa Frank, executive director, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Washington office: “No one should have to worry in 2024 about whether their well water, farm produce or even clothing is contaminated with toxic chemicals, but unfortunately that’s the reality for millions of Americans. This announcement is a critical step toward getting PFAS out of our waterways and making polluters pay. Now, we need to turn off the tap on toxic PFAS everywhere.” Statement

Lenny Siegel, executive director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight: “These chemicals have been spreading in and beyond our communities for decades. Declaring them ‘hazardous substances’ is an important tool that can be used to halt the spread and actually clean up the contamination, protecting us, our families, and our property. This action is long overdue.”

Cathy Wusterbarth, co-founder, Need Our Water: “These new designations will be the end to the ‘slow walk’ of cleaning up PFAS contaminated sites. I consider this the start of the long awaited ‘race’ to protect humans and the environment from these toxic chemicals.”

Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director & riverkeeper, Coosa River Basin Initiative, or CRBI: “CRBI offers its full-throated support for the EPA's designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA.”

Rebecca Malpass, director of policy and research, The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans:The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans applauds the Biden-Harris administration and EPA for taking critical steps to address PFAS contamination in our environment and communities. Industries, who often build their facilities in communities of color and low-income communities, have known for years that PFAS are detrimental to public and environmental health. These ‘forever chemicals’ have polluted our water and soil for decades and will continue to impact our children and grandchildren. Regulations under CERCLA will ensure clean up begins and that manufacturers of PFAS pay for the damage they've inflicted. With over 15,000 known PFAS compounds, we hope to see future expansions for PFAS regulations that create a safer environment for all.”

Katelyn Scott, water protector, Spokane Riverkeeper: “We are thrilled to see PFOA and PFOS added to the hazardous substances list. This is a necessary step for holding the polluters accountable and will have huge impacts on the greater Spokane region. We hope the Biden administration will continue to make meaningful strides to reduce toxic pollution in our environment.”

Joanne Stanton, co-founder, Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water: “This is long awaited good news! For decades, polluters knew PFAS chemicals were dangerous but hid risks from the public. These ‘forever chemicals’ used for decades at Department of Defense sites across the country continue to pollute our local waterways in Horsham and Warminster, Pennsylvania.  They don’t break down, and as a result remain in the environment and people for decades. This historic designation of PFOA and PFOS as a hazardous substance under CERCLA law is an important first step in regulating its clean up and keeping communities safe.”

Hope Grosse, co-founder, Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water: “Locally, the DOD has been dragging their feet with regards to cleanup. It has been 10 years since discovering PFAS contamination at both the Horsham and former Warminster DOD sites and we still have large unconfined PFAS plumes at both sites threatening our clean water sources, our fish, and our farmland. This hazardous substance designation will allow the EPA to speed up the cleanup process and even recover taxpayer money spent on cleanups from polluters.”

Laurene Allen, co-founder, Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water: “By designating the two most prevalent PFAS as hazardous substances, the EPA has ensured known polluters such as Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack, N.H. will be held responsible for site cleanup. This is great news not just in my community, but across the nation where decades of environmental contamination by PFAS polluters have impacted our families’ health and our natural resources. This long awaited designation and resulting actions will allow PFAS-impacted communities to finally begin our healing journey. The people have been heard.”

Cheryl Cail, chairperson, South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission, SC Idle No More: “This action is especially important for disadvantaged communities and communities of color who, as a consequence of historical environmental injustice, are more likely to live in communities near DOD sites, industrial sites, or waste sites that are highly contaminated with PFOA and PFOS. Although exempting utilities removes the incentive to require pretreatment of waste, this designation will ensure that legacy sites are cleaned up and that other makers and users of PFAS will be good stewards of their PFAS waste.”

Emily Donovan, co-founder, Clean Cape Fear: “Since learning about extreme levels of PFAS in our tap water we’ve been forced to live with water we don’t feel safe using while also enduring rate hikes to clean up a crisis we didn’t create. Chemical companies like DuPont and Chemours profited off of PFAS for decades at our expense. Finally, the Biden EPA is beginning to hold PFAS polluters accountable. While there is no price tag big enough to bring back all the lives cut short or traumatized by decades of PFAS exposures, this is a step in the right direction. Ultimately, we need PFAS regulated as a class and we will keep fighting until all PFAS are designated as hazardous substances.” Statement

Dana Colihan, co-facilitator, National PFAS Contamination Coalition: “Polluters have gotten away with poisoning our communities with PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ for far too long. This is another huge step forward in the fight against these toxic chemicals. The EPA finally has more legal muscle to make big polluters pay, and we look forward to working with them to leverage this tool to protect communities.” Statement

Rebecca Meuninck, Great Lakes regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation: “Today's announcement is another momentous victory in the long fight to protect people and wildlife from PFAS. Due to this designation communities across the country now have the tools they need to ensure that sites contaminated by PFOA and PFOS are a priority for cleanup and that the parties responsible for the contamination can be held accountable to clean up the mess they made.”

Sandy Wynn-Stelt, co-chair, Great Lakes PFAS Action Network: “This is another needed piece of the puzzle in combating the problem of PFAS contamination in our environment. By designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances it provides communities across the country with access to help in both remediating contamination, as well as holding the polluters accountable for their actions. For too long, individuals in my community have paid the price of these chemicals in our air, water and soil. Now the polluters will be required to pay.” Statement

Ayesha Khan, co-founder, Nantucket PFAS Action Group: “Polluters have gotten away with contaminating our communities for decades, and it appears somewhat tone-deaf when these polluters complain about the potential costs of cleanups, while overlooking the massive costs associated with not cleaning up — including cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive harms, immune system harms, and more. This designation will enhance the transparency that these communities deserve. Polluters will be required to report certain releases, enabling the EPA and state agencies to take immediate action.”

Cindy Boyle, advocate, Save Our Water, or S.O.H2O: “For communities like the town of Peshtigo and Marinette, Wis., this designation is an enormous step forward in ensuring environmental health for the public while simultaneously holding corporate polluters accountable for their decadeslong abuse. We petitioned the EPA years ago as a potential safety net against our communities’ PFAS contamination. This designation is critical to the viability of that petition and today we feel encouraged, validated and again hopeful that our community will get the remediation and safe drinking water that they deserve.”

Linda Shosie, founder, Tucson Environmental Justice Task Force: “It's a real moment of victory. Sometimes it is hard to see a historical moment when you are living in it. But I am seeing it and feeling it right now. I don't know if I should cry from the joy of it or from the thought that my daughter is saying, ‘Mom, I love you, and I am so proud of you. I can rest easy now.’ Thank you for saving the millions of other children who are affected by [PFAS].”

Andrea Amico, co-founder, Testing for Pease: “I applaud the EPA for designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. The Pease community has been highly impacted by PFAS contamination from the use of firefighting foam used by the U.S. Air Force when it was an active Air Force base. Pease was already a Superfund site when PFAS contamination was first discovered in 2014. The Superfund law has guided the PFAS investigation and remediation that the Pease community has received from the Air Force. By designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, many other PFAS-impacted communities across the nation who have currently been left behind due to lack of legal authority to hold polluters accountable can now address PFAS contamination and will now benefit from investigations and cleanup of their communities, too.” Statement

Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN, executive director, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, or ANHE: “ANHE thanks the EPA for designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law (CERCLA). This designation will give the EPA more authority to investigate and remediate waste sites. Today’s designation also holds those accountable who spread PFOA and PFOS contamination. We are long past the point of questioning if there are health impacts from PFAS chemicals, we now must begin to implement strong and health protective policies and work on solutions. We look forward to EPA continuing to designate more PFAS compounds under CERCLA and encourage EPA to remain consistent with its regulations and designate, at a minimum, all the chemicals regulated in the proposed National Primary Drinking Water Regulation as ‘hazardous substances’ under CERCLA. This designation will help hold polluters accountable, allow CERCLA/Superfund to be used to lower exposures from contaminated sites, and help EPA investigate and remediate those waste sites to fulfill their obligations to public health.”

Bentley Johnson, federal government affairs director, Michigan League of Conservation Voters: “We applaud the EPA for taking action to ensure communities impacted by toxic PFAS contamination receive the assistance they need to ensure contamination is cleaned up and polluters are held accountable. By designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA and including sites contaminated with these chemicals on the Superfund cleanup list, we can accelerate cleanup actions to address dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ wreaking havoc on the health of communities like Rockford, Mich.”

Kelly Moser, Water Program senior attorney and leader, Southern Environmental Law Center: “Communities across the Southeast and the country have been shouldering the costs of PFAS contamination for far too long. Today’s designations will help put the burden of addressing PFAS pollution back on the polluter. Now states and municipalities must use the tools they have to stop ongoing toxic PFAS pollution before more contaminated Superfund sites are created.” Statement

Liz Kirkwood, executive director, For Love of Water: “Here in Michigan, we’ve seen first-hand what happens when the ‘polluter pays’ principle falls by the wayside, particularly in vulnerable communities. As we fight to bring back polluter responsibility at the state level, we applaud the EPA’s action at the federal level to fully recognize the dangers of PFOA and PFOS chemicals, and move to hold polluting corporations responsible. This action by the EPA and the Biden-Harris administration is a win for human health and for environmental justice.”

Marc Yaggi, chief executive officer, Waterkeeper Alliance:The ‘polluter pays principle’ is foundational, and with the new EPA rule designating PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under CERCLA, responsible parties can finally be held accountable for reporting and cleaning up their pollution. We applaud EPA's action, enabling swift response to known hazards, contamination cleanup, and safeguarding drinking water supplies. With its authorities and the enforcement discretion policy, EPA can protect farmers, water utilities, airports, fire departments, and others that have been forced to deal with the widespread PFAS pollution they did not create, ensuring accountability rests where it belongs.” Statement

Walter Mugdan, former EPA Region 2 Superfund director and current volunteer with the Environmental Protection Network:EPA's landmark action will allow the agency to more strongly address PFAS contamination and expedite cleanups of these toxic forever chemicals while also ensuring that cleanup costs fall on those most responsible – the industrial polluters who continue to manufacture and use them. This action, coupled with EPA’s recent announcement of limits on PFAS in drinking water, are critical steps in protecting the public from these harmful compounds.” Statement

Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director, League of Conservation Voters: “EPA’s final decision to list PFOA and PFOS as hazardous chemicals under the Superfund program is a historic win for communities across the country impacted by this toxic pollution. For decades, chemical companies have knowingly jeopardized the health of our communities, especially communities of color and low-wealth communities, by contaminating our drinking water, lands, and air with these dangerous ‘forever chemicals.’ Today’s hazardous listing is a monumental step and will provide much-needed transparency around the release of these chemicals, allow EPA to swiftly deploy resources for cleanup, and ensure big polluters, not taxpayers, are held liable for cleanup costs. This announcement builds on the Biden-Harris administration's recent finalization of the first-ever PFAS drinking water standards, delivering on another key piece of their PFAS roadmap, and demonstrating once again their commitment to ensuring everyone is able to live in a clean, safe, and healthy environment.” Statement

Jennifer Rawlison, steering committee member, Newburgh Clean Water Project: “This is another important step by the EPA toward ensuring communities across the nation are protected from toxic exposures and holding polluters accountable.  Since the 2016 public disclosure that City of Newburgh residents had been exposed for decades to toxic PFAS chemicals running off the Stewart Air National Guard Base, we have lost the use of our once thriving reservoir, and rely on alternative water sources from different agencies.  Our community knows firsthand how devastating exposure to these toxic ‘forever chemicals’ can be to the health of loved ones and so any step towards preventing exposure and assisting communities such as ours in the fight for clean water and full remediation is considered an important one.”

Tom Fox, senior legislative counsel, Center for Environmental Health: “There is sufficient scientific evidence for EPA to move forward with designating additional PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances, and there is a sound basis for EPA to propose designating the entire class of PFAS as hazardous substance. We urge EPA to pick up the pace in exercising its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to order PFAS manufacturers to conduct testing, including ordering epidemiological studies.” Statement

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