EPA declares 2 forever chemicals are ‘hazardous,’ putting polluters on the hook for cleanup

April 19, 2024

The Biden administration on Friday designated two pervasive pollutants as “hazardous substances” — making it easier to put companies that dumped them on the hook for cleanup costs. 

The move, by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), designates two types of PFAS as hazardous under the nation’s legacy pollution law. 

PFAS, which stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, refers to a class of cancer-linked chemicals that have been used to make nonstick and waterproof products, as well as firefighting foam.

The toxic chemicals have become pervasive in U.S. waterways, but have also contaminated specific sites, including areas near chemical plants and military bases. 

The EPA’s latest action seeks to enable remediation of historic pollution of two of the most notorious and dangerous types, called PFOA and PFOS.

The new hazardous substance designation gives the agency greater authority to investigate and clean up sites that have been polluted with these chemicals under the nation’s Superfund law. It also makes it easier for the agency to compel the companies that dumped them to pay for those actions. 

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The EPA also said that it was issuing a separate policy stating that it would focus these efforts on big polluters like companies that made or used PFAS in manufacturing or certain federal facilities.

“President Biden understands the threat that “forever chemicals” pose to the health of families across the country,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a written statement. 

“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,” he added.

The chemicals are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they tend to persist in the environment and build up over time instead of breaking down. 

The move comes just days after a separate rule established legal limits for several PFAS in drinking water, including PFOA and PFOS.