The Environmental Protection Agency is launching a roadmap to “research, restrict, and remediate harmful PFAS,” a White House fact sheet said, using existing EPA authorities. The actions include a new national testing strategy, a proposal to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under existing law, and actions to broaden and accelerate cleanup.
“(PFAS) can cause severe health problems and persist in the environment once released, posing a serious threat across rural, suburban, and urban areas. To safeguard public health and protect the environment, the efforts being announced will help prevent PFAS from being released into the air, drinking systems, and food supply, and the actions will expand cleanup efforts to remediate the impacts of these harmful pollutants,” the fact sheet stated.
PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals,” a family of potentially thousands of synthetic chemicals that are extremely persistent in the environment and in human bodies.
They are all identified by signature elemental bonds of fluorine and carbon, which are extremely strong and what make it so difficult for these chemicals to disintegrate.
PFAS chemicals have been highly utilized in various industries because of their ability to repel oil and water. They’ve been manufactured since the 1940s and can be found in Teflon nonstick products, stains and water repellants, paints, cleaning products, food packaging and firefighting foams.
A growing body of science has found that there are potential adverse health impacts associated with PFAS exposure, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer. These chemicals can easily migrate into the air, dust, food, soil and water. People can also be exposed to them through food packaging and industrial exposure.
“For far too long, families across America — especially those in underserved communities — have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”
The announcement comes as welcome news to environmental advocates.
“EPA’s commitment to taking a class-based approach to restrict or ban current uses of the ‘forever’ chemical PFAS is a critical piece of its just-released PFAS Roadmap. The actions detailed in the roadmap are essential first steps in reducing people’s exposure to these extremely dangerous chemicals, especially in communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution,” said Betsy Southerland, Ph. D., former director of the Office of Science and Technology in the EPA’s Office of Water and a member of the Environmental Protection Network.
There is also a measure in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is awaiting a vote in the House, that will provide grants to address PFAS contamination in drinking water, along with funding in the sweeping Biden economic agenda that would secure funding for the EPA to conduct monitoring for PFAS compounds, per the fact sheet.
CNN’s Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.