The Biden Administration Moves to Regulate "Forever Chemicals" that We're Exposed to Every Day

Moves to Regulate

The Biden Administration has been making strides in regulating chemicals that threaten the health of millions of Americans. In a historic move on October 18th, 2021—the Biden administration announced that it will begin to regulate a group of long-lasting, human-made chemicals called PFASs (perfluorinated alkyl substances) that are known to cause cancer and other diseases. These chemicals can be found in products such as cosmetics, dental floss, food packaging, clothing, and cleaning supplies.

The Environmental Protection Agency stated that it will move with haste to establish enforceable drinking water standards for certain polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl chemicals, commonly known as "forever chemicals," which do not break down naturally and have been discovered in the water supplies of communities across the country.

Related: PFAS: What You Should Know

The Biden administration has been working hard to regulate these chemicals for years. This latest move by the EPA is another step toward protecting all Americans from dangerous toxins, and we're excited to see what else the Biden administration has in store.

PFOA and PFOS chemicals will be designated as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) by EPA in a long-awaited move. The EPA will also seek input on whether other compounds such as PFAS precursors should be classified as hazardous pollutants. The EPA is expected to propose establishing PFAS action levels for drinking water in 2021. A programmatic approach similar to that implemented by California under Proposition 65 would likely result, which may have significant financial and environmental ramifications across many sectors. 

By the Fall of 2022, the Roadmap intends to propose a rule that establishes enforceable limitations on PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. This will complete a process begun earlier this year when the EPA proposed rules setting maximum contaminant levels for three PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

EPA plans to eliminate an exemption by adding PFAS to the "chemicals of special concern" list, which would remove the de minimis eligibility from the Toxic Release Inventory's (TRI) supplier notification requirement. EPA also intends to broaden the categories of PFAS that must be reported through the TRI. Both will take place by 2022.

EPA intends to conduct further research on PFAS air emissions, which may lead to some PFAS being classified as Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act and requiring sources to have emission controls. EPA expects to evaluate mitigation choices by the end of 2022.

The EPA's new Roadmap supplements previous actions the agency has taken to combat PFAS, such as revising a toxicity assessment that had been marred by error and unscientific bias and issuing a new study based on professional scientists. EPA has also started to develop a national primary drinking water regulation, improve knowledge of 29 PFAS chemicals in the nation's water systems, and take actions to prevent polluters from discharging PFAS into America's waterways and wastewater systems per President Biden's promise to enforce a maximum level for PFAS in drinking water.

The EPA's and the administration's PFAS regulatory pronouncements do not appear to include some of the more stringent environmental demands, including classifying all PFAS as "toxic waste" under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), prohibiting PFAS incineration, or forcing sludge from agricultural fields treated with PFAS to be tested for it. Many of the regulatory initiatives in EPA's and the administration's plans were already well underway. Nonetheless, EPA and Biden officials have stated that their environmental policy will center on PFAS regulation for the next three years.

See Also: What are PFAS Chemicals and How Should You Dispose of Them?