On Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, the White House announced an effort joined by eight federal agencies to reduce PFAS in U.S. air, water, land and food. PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in both industry and consumer products since the 1940s. Research has shown that exposure to PFAS may lead to a range of health effects, including decreased fertility, developmental effects or delays in children, and increased risk of some cancers. PFAS are widely used in the industrial context including in fire extinguishing foam, chrome plating, electronics, and certain textile and paper manufacturing. PFAS are also found in consumer products such as food packaging, nonstick cookware and personal care products. Also referred to as "forever chemicals," PFAS break down very slowly in the environment and have been found in water supplies across the nation.
In concert with the announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a PFAS Strategic Roadmap (EPA Roadmap), a three-year plan "to turn the tide" against PFAS and lead to meaningful action now. The EPA Roadmap describes specific regulations that EPA will issue regarding PFAS and further testing and research that will be conducted.
Specifically, the EPA Roadmap lays out the following actions that EPA will take:
- Issue final drinking water limits for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which are two of the best-studied and most hazardous PFAS.
- Designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund law, by the summer of 2023. The proposed rulemaking will be available for public comment in spring 2022.
- Require chemical manufacturers to test and publicly report on the use of PFAS in their products.
In addition to EPA, seven other federal agencies are involved in the effort. The departments of Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration will support research and investigation regarding PFAS in their areas, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality will coordinate the PFAS response activities across the government.
Several states, including New York, have started to take action to deal with PFAS. New York has begun investigations of old landfill sites around the state to see whether drinking water supplies are impacted by PFAS coming from those sites. This could mean that sites that have been closed out for years will now be subject to sampling and possible remediation. In addition, site owners may be obligated to provide bottled water to private homeowners whose water supply is impacted by PFAS coming from their site.
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