HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets closer to formally regulating two well-known PFAS chemicals in drinking water – PFOA and PFOS – the agency has just finished taking comments on regulating seven additional PFAS chemicals, with an eye toward establishing Superfund cleanup sites where the chemicals are found.
Known as “forever chemicals” PFAS don’t easily break down in water and have been linked to a number of health effects. Among those commenting was an 88-member roster of non-profit and environmental groups including Tennessee Riverkeeper, who urged the agency to act.
The groups cited the value of regulating PFAS under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”), which provides for Superfund cleanup efforts.
“Designating PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances would help ensure that releases of these dangerous chemicals are investigated, timely reported, and fully remediated,” the groups told the EPA. “It would help safeguard communities across the country against the risks of PFAS exposure; incentivize industrial sources to control their PFAS pollution before it enters our rivers, drinking water, and homes; and ensure that polluters—not people—pay for pollution.”
The EPA also heard from citizens, industry and other groups – including PFAS maker 3M, which argued more study is needed before a designation could be made.
“It is arbitrary and capricious for EPA to designate groups or categories of PFAS as hazardous substances until and unless robust data are developed on the physical, chemical, biological, and toxicological properties of the specific substances considered for inclusion in, or exclusion from, such categories,” 3M wrote in its comments to the EPA. “EPA itself recently explained that with respect to PFAS, potential risk to human health or the environment should be considered directly for each chemical, and the risks are not assumed to follow from a chemical falling into any particular category of substances.
“It is arbitrary and capricious for EPA to designate groups or categories of PFAS as hazardous substances until and unless robust data are developed on the physical, chemical, biological, and toxicological properties of the specific substances considered for inclusion in, or exclusion from, such categories. EPA itself recently explained that with respect to PFAS, potential risks to human health or the environment should be considered ‘directly for each chemical, and the risks are not assumed to follow from a chemical falling into any particular category of substances.’”
A lot has happened regarding PFAS since the West Morgan-East Lawrence (WMEL) water authority advised customers back in June 2016 to avoid drinking its water due to high PFAS levels. Back then, the e-p-a offered a lifetime ‘health advisory’ concerning PFAS – and the WMEL drinking water exceeded those.
Seven years later multiple PFAS-related lawsuits have been settled in North Alabama, a new WMEL water treatment plant has been built after a $35 million settlement with 3M, and the EPA tells News 19 it expects to formalize the PFAS drinking water rule on PFOA and PFOS by year’s end and its initial Superfund rule in early 2024.
3M has said it will stop making pfas chemicals by the end of 2025 and in June the company announced it would spend up to $12.5 billion to settle PFAS contamination lawsuits around the U.S.
Tennessee Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside, whose group sued and reached a cleanup settlement with 3M, wants the EPA to go further in the regulations.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper and 87 other nonprofit organizations approve the EPA adding these PFAS chemicals to the Superfund law,” he said. “Ultimately yes, it would provide more protection for public health, especially in terms of cleaning up some of the nation’s worst PFAS spots, in terms of PFAS contamination or also sites that don’t have a responsible party to clean them up.”