EPA closes loophole on toxic PFAS

    Susan J. Demas

    Manufacturers of perfluorinated compounds, also known as PFAS, will no longer be allowed to use a special exemption that allowed hundreds of these toxic substances to be fast tracked into the marketplace.

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan announced this week that the agency is closing the “low-volume” loophole. It allowed industries that agreed to limit their manufacture of chemicals, including PFAS, to no more than 22 tons per year to request a shortened 30-day scientific review instead of the traditional 90 days.

    The Environmental Defense Fund recently analyzed applications for these exemptions and found that under the Trump administration the EPA allowed 15 of 24 PFAS into the marketplace under expedited review; another application was “conditionally granted.”

    The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said 490 PFAS compounds have received exemptions since 2000. One hundred and seven were denied.

    “It’s good news that the EPA has closed this loophole, which has allowed too many new PFAS into commerce without adequate safety reviews,” said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews.

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    Earth Justice and other community groups had filed a petition requesting the EPA close the loophole.

    The list of serious health problems linked to PFAS continues to grow: Thyroid disorders, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney, testicular, prostate and ovarian cancers; low-birth weight, high blood pressure during pregnancy, decreased fertility in both men and women, and high cholesterol.

    “We’re glad to see the administrator continues to make PFAS a priority, and we ultimately need a whole of government approach to PFAS that includes the Department of Defense, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, not just the EPA,” said EWG lobbyist Scott Faber.

    Regan also announced he is establishing a new council on PFAS, composed of senior leadership within the EPA. In a memo to top officials within the EPA, Regan wrote that the work of the council is to “advance new science, develop … policies and regulations … and engage with affected states, tribes and communities.” Regan cautioned that the council would supplement other work by the EPA on PFAS.

    Among other initiatives under the Biden Administration, the EPA has begun to develop a national primary drinking water regulation and to solicit data on PFAS in wastewater discharges. These discharges are important because wastewater is discharged from municipal treatment plants, and some industrial facilities, into waterways. Although the wastewater is treated beforehand, traditional methods don’t remove PFAS.

    A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister outlet, North Carolina Policy Watch.

    Lisa Sorg
    Lisa Sorg joined N.C. Policy Watch in July 2016. She covers environmental issues, including social justice, pollution, climate change and energy policy. Before joining the project, Lisa was the editor and an investigative reporter for INDY Week, covering the environment, housing and city government. She has been a journalist for 22 years, working at magazines, daily newspapers, digital media outlets and alternative newsweeklies.