On Oct. 18, EPA announced its comprehensive PFAS Strategic Roadmap (Roadmap), which lays out a comprehensive approach to tackling PFAS contamination within the U.S. For decades, PFAS — short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — have been widely used to manufacture a wide variety of products, such as nonstick cookware, fire-fighting foam, and water- and stain-resistant fabrics and materials. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because of their inability to naturally break down over time, leading to accumulation in humans and the environment. These chemicals’ widespread use and pervasive nature, along with a lack of regulations regarding use and disposal, has caused EPA to identify PFAS contamination as one of its top areas of concern for a number of years. This Roadmap follows previous EPA action plans on PFAS from 2009 and 2016.
The Roadmap — developed by the newly-established EPA Council on PFAS — not only lays out EPA’s holistic-agency approach to tackling PFAS, but also sets timelines by which EPA plans to take concrete actions during the Biden administration’s first term. This integrative approach to PFAS regulation is focused on three central directives:
- Increase investments in research to increase understanding of PFAS exposures and toxicities, human health and ecological effects, and effective interventions that incorporate the best available science;
- Leverage authorities to take action now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released into the environment; and
- Accelerate and broaden the cleanup of PFAS contamination.
Previously, EPA has taken the approach that PFAS cannot be solved by tackling one route of exposure or one use at a time; rather, the agency believes that it must use every “tool in its tool box.” The Roadmap continues with this approach, outlining key actions that each EPA office will take over the next four years. Among other things, the Roadmap lays out the following actions for each office:
- By fall 2022, the Office of Water will draft a proposed rule setting enforceable drinking water limits for certain PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act;
- By spring 2022, the Office of Land and Emergency Management will draft a proposed rule designating certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA);
- The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention will review existing PFAS and ensure a robust review process for new PFAS on an ongoing basis under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure that these substances are safe before they enter commerce and do not present concerns;
- The Office of Air and Radiation will build the technical foundation to address PFAS air emissions by fall 2022; and
- The Office of Research and Development will continue to develop and validate methods to detect and measure PFAS in the environment on an ongoing basis.
In addition, multiple offices will work together on cross-program action items, such as establishing a PFAS Voluntary Stewardship Program by spring 2022 and issuing an annual public report on progress towards PFAS commitments, beginning in winter 2022.
The Roadmap is the newest addition to the ever-evolving PFAS regulatory landscape and highlights EPA’s commitment to tackling PFAS from all angles. Companies that work with PFAS at all stages of their lifecycle should be prepared to adapt to the regulatory changes over the next four years. Taft’s attorneys have significant experience with PFAS compliance and regulatory counseling. For more information, please contact a member of Taft’s Environmental practice group.