EPA moves to make polluters foot the bill for PFAS cleanup

By Shannon Kelleher

US regulators on Friday finalized a rule designating two widespread PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances, a step they say will ensure polluters pay to clean up contamination and reduce Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals.

Under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund law, the rule will require leaks and spills of these per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to be immediately reported and will enable investigation and cleanup of the chemicals.

The finalized rule “enables the agency to use one of its strongest enforcement tools to compel polluters to pay for or conduct investigations and cleanup, rather than taxpayers,” said the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a press release. “Designation is especially important as delay in addressing contamination allows PFOA and PFOS more time to migrate in water and soil, worsening existing contamination.”

“This is great news for the many communities grappling with PFAS contamination – many of which are also low income and communities of color,” said Tracey Woodruff, an environmental health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco and a former EPA senior scientist.

The move comes days after the EPA announced the nation’s first legally enforceable drinking water limits for the same chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), along with four other PFAS.

So-called “forever chemicals,” which do not break down naturally, have been used for decades in consumer products ranging from nonstick pans to waterproof clothes and stain resistant carpet. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to cancers, liver and heart problems, and immune and developmental damage in children, according to the EPA. The chemicals are found in the blood of almost all Americans.