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Polluters must pay to clean up areas contaminated with PFOA, PFOS

Credit: iStock

by Lisa Sorg, NC Newsline
April 19, 2024

Industries that discharge toxic PFOA and PFOS compounds into the environment will now be held legally and financially responsible for the contamination, according to a final rule issued by the EPA today.

The Department of Defense is also subject to the new requirements.

PFOA and PFOS are now classified as hazardous substances under Superfund law, which authorizes the EPA to use its enforcement powers to require polluters pay for and clean up the contamination. The designation also mandates new reporting requirements for facilities that release the compounds into the environment.

These facilities include 3M, DuPont and its spinoff company, Chemours.

“Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The EPA announced the new rule a week after setting legally enforceable drinking water standards for five types of the toxic compounds, as well as a mixture. PFOA and PFOS are among those compounds with maximum contamination limits of 4 parts per trillion.

Exposure to PFOA, PFOS and other similar compounds has been linked to multiple health problems, including thyroid and liver disorders, reproductive and fetal development problems, immune system deficiencies, high cholesterol, and kidney, testicular and other cancers.

There are several exemptions to the rule — entities that receive, often unknowingly, these compounds from industrial sources: community water systems and publicly owned treatment works, municipal storm sewer systems, publicly owned/operated municipal solid waste landfills, publicly owned airports and local fire departments, and farms where biosolids are applied to the land.

When Regan announced the new drinking water standards, public utilities clamored for ways to pass the treatment costs to polluters. PFOA and PFOS, as well as other types of the toxic compounds, can’t be removed through traditional treatment methods. The upgrades can run in the tens of millions of dollars. The $1 billion in federal funding to help utilities meet the drinking water standards is not enough, given the widespread contamination.

“Communities across the Southeast and the country have been shouldering the costs of PFAS contamination for far too long,” said Kelly Moser, senior attorney and leader of the Water Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Today’s designations will help put the burden of addressing PFAS pollution back on the polluter. Now states and municipalities must use the tools they have to stop ongoing toxic PFAS pollution before more contaminated Superfund sites are created.”

Under the new rule, entities are required to immediately report releases of PFOA and PFOS that meet or exceed the reportable quantity of one pound within a 24-hour period to the National Response Center, as well as state, tribal and local emergency responders.

“After decades of industry using and disposing PFOA and PFOS, EPA can now accelerate cleanups of the most contaminated sites,” said Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Christine Santillana, in a prepared statement.“It’s highly encouraging to see EPA initiate this designation and gives hope to impacted communities that their health will be better protected.”

The final rule also means that federal entities that transfer or sell their property must provide notice about the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA or PFOS on the property and guarantee that contamination has been cleaned up or, if needed, that additional cleanup will occur in the future. It will also lead the Department of Transportation to list and regulate these substances as hazardous materials, according to the EPA.

Under federal law, hazardous materials can be transported only with a special permit, accompanied by a shipping manifest. Transportation documents for most hazardous substances are public through the EPA’s e-Manifest database; it will now be easier to track the transport of PFOA and PFOS.

This designation of the two chemicals will also ensure that hundreds of Department of Defense installations with PFOA and PFOS contamination are finally cleaned up.

This could affect the Tarheel Army Missile Plant in Burlington, where PFOA and PFOS were found in the groundwater and soil last year. Although the military has already transferred that property to private owners, the Department of Defense is responsible for cleaning up contamination below the ground — now including PFOA and PFOS.

“Nearly 500 military installations are contaminated with PFAS, but the DOD has failed to make PFAS cleanup a priority – and our service members and defense communities are paying the price,” said Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group.

The national Sierra Club had submitted public comments last year, asking the EPA to crack down on industrial dischargers.

“We’re grateful that the EPA continues to find ways to fight what can only be described as an uphill battle against PFAS contamination,” said Erin Carey, acting director of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club. “Right now, the regulation of these dangerous chemicals is far too narrow to be fully protective. With more than ten thousand of these compounds in production, we must move toward regulation of PFAS as a class, rather than this ‘whack-a-mole’ method of regulating individual compounds. Broader and more ambitious action will be required of this agency, of industry and of our elected leaders to meaningfully tackle the terrifying and widespread threat of ‘forever chemicals’ in our bodies and our environment.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.

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