EPA unveils strategy to regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’

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EPA will move to set aggressive drinking water limits for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act

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The Biden administration said Monday it is launching a comprehensive strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds linked to serious health conditions that are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and fire-fighting foam.

Michael Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency is taking several steps to limit pollution from a group of long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS that can be found in public drinking water systems, private wells and even That food is growing rapidly. .

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NS Department of Defense said it is moving to assess and clean up PFAS-contaminated sites across the country, while the Food and Drug Administration will expand testing of food supplies to estimate the exposure of Americans to PFAS from food. And the Department of Agriculture will boost efforts to prevent and address PFAS contamination in food.

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The plan aims to prevent PFAS from being released into the environment, accelerate the cleanup of PFAS-contaminated sites such as military bases, and invest in research to learn more about where PFASs are found and how to prevent their spread. is to increase.

“It’s a bold strategy that begins with immediate action,” Regan said in an interview with the Associated Press and will include additional steps for President Joe Biden “through this first term.” “We are going to use every tool in our toolbox to restrict human exposure to these toxic chemicals.”

PFAS, called “forever chemicals” because they last for so long in the environment, have been linked to serious health conditions, including cancer and low birth weight.

PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that are used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, and countless other consumer products. The chemical bonds are so strong that they do not degrade or do so only slowly in the environment and remain in a person’s bloodstream indefinitely.

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As part of the strategy announced Monday, the EPA will move to set aggressive drinking water limits for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act and require PFAS manufacturers to report how toxic their products are. The agency will also designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the so-called Superfund law that allows the EPA to pay for cleanup work to companies responsible for pollution or to do it themselves.

Regan said the action would make it easier for the EPA to ensure that cleanup is done safely and that “the polluter pays for it.”

Environmental and public health groups welcomed the announcement. Advocates have long urged action on PFAS by the EPA, the FDA, the Pentagon and other agencies.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, thousands of communities have detected PFAS chemicals in their waters, and PFAS has been confirmed in nearly 400 military installations.

“Nobody needs to worry about toxic chemicals in their tap water,” said Scott Faber, the group’s senior vice president. The group is grateful that the Biden administration will fulfill the president’s pledge to address PFAS and “begin to close the tap of industrial PFAS pollution,” Faber said.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical companies, said it “supports robust, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances.” But the group said: “Not all PFAS are the same, and they should not all be regulated in the same way. The EPA’s roadmap reinforces the distinction between these chemistries and that they should not all be grouped together.” We hope and expect that any federal action will be consistent with sound science.”

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The regulatory strategy comes as Congress considers comprehensive legislation to establish national drinking water standards for certain PFAS chemicals and clean up contaminated sites nationwide, including military bases, where high rates of PFAS have been discovered.

Legislation passed by the House would establish a national drinking water standard for PFAS and direct the EPA to develop discharge limits for a range of industries suspected of releasing PFAS in water. The bill is stalled in the Senate.

Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Mitch., the major sponsor of the House bill, applauded the EPA’s announcement and said the clean-up of PFAS-contaminated sites should begin immediately.

“We’ve known about PFAS and its dangerous effects for years, and today, the federal government has made a commitment to the American people that these chemicals can no longer be ignored,” she said.

Even with EPA action, Congress must still approve legislation to regulate and clean up PFAS, Dingell said. “It is time for the Senate to act,” she said.

Regan, a former North Carolina environmental regulator who took over as EPA chief in March, said he saw firsthand how dangerous PFAS can be in his home state.

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As North Carolina’s top environmental official, Regan led negotiations that resulted in the cleanup of the Cape Fear River, which has been dangerously contaminated by PFAS industrial compounds that are manufacturing run by a spinoff of chemical giant DuPont. were issued from the plant for decades.

“I spent time with families in their communities, talking to them about their fears and concerns,” said Regan, who announced the agency’s plan at a news conference in Raleigh. Potential long-term effects on their children, caregivers wondering whether their loved ones’ incurable diseases were linked” to the PFAS release from the Fayetteville Works Plant.

“So there’s a real sense of urgency,” he said.

Praising enforcement actions in North Carolina, Regan said the state would be in a stronger position “if the federal government were a better, stronger partner.”

Under his leadership, the EPA has “done more in eight months” on PFAS than the previous administration, he said.

Officials expect a proposed rule on PFAS in drinking water by 2023, Regan said. “We are going to move as quickly as possible to set these safe drinking water limits,” he said.

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Action on PFAS “will not be taken on the back of the American people,” Regan said. “We are holding polluters accountable, and we are using the fullest extent of our statutory authority to ensure that they pay for what they do. ‘We did.’”


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