The federal government has announced to act on a lightly regulated class of chemicals that are associated with a wide range of potential health risks. The roadmap, published today by the Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to reduce human exposure to these chemicals, known as PFAS.
There are approximately 5,000 PFAS—short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. Hundreds are currently used to make nonstick cookware, water- and stain-resistant fabric, and firefighting foam. PFAS are referred to as forever chemicals because they don’t naturally break down over time but instead accumulate in the environment and in our bodies. Research shows they are hazardous to human health. Scientists have linked some PFAS chemicals to certain cancers, weakened immune system response, decreased fertility, and other health issues.
The new EPA roadmap lays out a series of steps the agency plans to take to help address widespread PFAS contamination. These include plans to:
- Require PFAS manufacturers to conduct toxicity studies on a number of their products, with testing ordered by the end of this year
- Set enforceable limits for levels of certain PFAS in drinking water by the fall of 2023
- Review past EPA regulatory decisions on PFAS chemicals
- More closely review the use of new PFAS
- Publish toxicity assessments for commonly used PFAS known to affect human health
- Designate certain PFAS as hazardous chemicals
- Launch a number of initiatives to further study PFAS risks
Experts say that if EPA follows through with these steps, it may have a significant impact.
The agency plans to use the new data on PFAS toxicity and its review of past action to identify the best strategies to limit Americans’ exposure to these chemicals.
“After more than two decades of delay, it’s good news that EPA is finally starting to act,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in a statement. “But we must move even faster to turn off the tap of PFAS pollution by industry.”
More action is needed, say experts.
PFAS is still found in some food packaging, where it helps prevent grease from seeping through wrappings. Seven states have banned the use of PFAS in food packaging, but FDA limits would further reduce its use.
Likewise, other agencies, including the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration, must do more to stop PFAS use in firefighting foams and to clean up contaminated sites, says EWG.