EPA proposes adding PFAS to hazardous waste cleanup law

By Shannon Kelleher

Federal regulators today announced a proposal to update the definition of hazardous waste in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to include a class of chemicals known as PFAS, a move designed to help ensure cleanups of these so-called “forever chemicals” at hazardous waste facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed rules will also add nine per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to a list of substances in the act that are considered in assessments of facilities used to treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste. The updates will strengthen protections for communities located near the 1,740 hazardous waste facilities across the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement by the EPA will ensure that quick action can be taken to clean up PFAS and will send a powerful signal to industry to be good stewards of their PFAS wastes,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at The Environmental Working Group nonprofit in a statement.

PFAS chemicals do not break down naturally and can leach into drinking water from industrial sites, sewage treatment plants, and landfills. PFAS have been found in at least 45% of US tap water and in the blood of about 97% of Americans. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to numerous health problems, including certain cancers.

Over 700 military sites nationwide have been either found to have discharged or are suspected of having discharged PFAS into the environment, often from firefighting foam that contains the toxic chemicals.