EPA Takes First Baby Steps on PFAS

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933

EPA Takes First Baby Steps on PFAS

Nonregulatory Health Advisories on Just Four of Thousands of PFAS


Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today on setting health advisories for four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is both encouraging and illustrative of how much remains to be done, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new EPA health advisories have no direct regulatory power, and so are not enforceable, but signal the potential of enforceable standards in months to come.

Today, EPA issued Lifetime Health Advisories (LHA is guidance on concentrations that are not expected to cause adverse non-carcinogenic health effects after a lifetime of exposure) for GenX of 10 parts-per-trillion (ppt); PFBS of 2,000 ppt; PFOA an interim Health Advisory of 4 parts-per-quadrillion (ppq); and PFOS an interim HA of 20 ppq.

“EPA should be congratulated on today’s actions, but those kudos should be tempered by the knowledge that these are just four of thousands of these toxic substances,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney. “Health advisories are a long way from enforceable limits and an even much longer way to actual cleanups where these substances are finally removed from our waters, soil, and food-chain.”

There are several noticeable aspects to today’s EPA actions, including –

    • The PFBS and GenX Health Advisories are higher than most health authorities advise. Michigan, for example, regulates PFBS at 420 ppt, a level several times stricter;
    • By contrast, the parts-per-quadrillion advisories for PFOA and PFOS are far stricter than any state standards. The ppq standard denotes just how toxic even minute quantities of these substances are; and
    • The path from these Health Advisories to regulatory limits may be longer than EPA predicts and result in relaxations, as bureaucratic cost-benefit standards are applied, especially to cleanups down to the ppq level.

EPA’s chemical-by-chemical approach to a class of chemicals with thousands of variations shows just how difficult it will be for the agency to effectively address the PFAS contamination crisis. In addition, industry can manufacture new PFAS versions that may be even more potent. For example, GenX was created to replace one of the original PFAS.

“Since EPA does not appear to be ready to regulate all PFAS as a class, it may be condemned to playing a futile game of regulatory Whack-a-Mole for generations to come,” added Whitehouse. “Further, EPA’s failure to regulate PFAS wastes makes containing contamination almost impossible.”


See EPA’s announcement

Look at EPA’s struggles with defining PFAS

Read PEER petition to regulate PFAS as hazardous waste

Trace PFAS’ spread

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