HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it plans to designate PFOA and PFOS chemicals made for years by companies like 3M in Decatur, as hazardous substances under the “Superfund” act.

The EPA says the proposal “is based on significant evidence that PFOA and PFOS may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare or the environment.”

Over the past year 3M has settled a number of lawsuits related to PFAS chemical contamination in the Tennessee River and communities in North Alabama. The chemicals are used in a wide variety of products, including nonstick cookware, water-repellant clothing, stain-resistant fabric, and some firefighting foam.

On Friday, The EPA said, “PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time and evidence from laboratory animal and human epidemiology studies indicates that exposure to PFOA and/or PFOS may lead to cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects. “

In June, the EPA announced new drinking water advisories for the presence of PFAS chemicals, sharply lowering what is considered a safe amount to drink. Those lowered standards, which are still in the proposal stage, meant numerous water systems in North Alabama which had previously acceptable levels of PFAS in the drinking water, are now above the EPA’s proposed standard. If those rules go through, it could mean water systems will have to purchase potentially expensive, advanced filtering equipment.

The announcement Friday suggests EPA will assist communities with PFAs cleanup and pursue potential actions against polluters.

“Many known and potential sources of PFAS contamination are near communities already overburdened with pollution. If finalized, the rulemaking would trigger reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases, providing the Agency with improved data and the option to require cleanups and recover cleanup costs to protect public health and encourage better waste management.

“EPA is focused on holding responsible those who have manufactured and released significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS into the environment. EPA will use enforcement discretion and other approaches to ensure fairness for minor parties who may have been inadvertently impacted by the contamination. EPA is also committed to doing further outreach and engagement to hear from impacted communities, wastewater utilities, businesses, farmers and other parties during the consideration of the proposed rule.”

3M has entered a consent order with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for PFAS cleanup, which includes a number of required actions.

The EPA is expected to publish the proposed rules in the Federal Register in the next several weeks. Once that is published there will be a 60-day comment period.