EPA Announces PFAS Action Plan
On February 14, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released an action plan (“Action Plan”) for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (“PFOS”). Evidence has indicated continued exposure to PFAS above specific levels may lead to significant adverse health effects. This Action Plan demonstrates the EPA’s leading efforts with federal, state, tribal, and community partners to better characterize and mitigate risks related to the presence of PFAS in the environment. The Action Plan describes the EPA’s approach to identifying and understanding PFAS, addressing current PFAS contamination, preventing future contamination, and effectively communicating with the public about PFAS. Below is a brief summary of the EPA’s priority, short-term, and long-term actions in response to concerns and challenges identified through public input and community engagement.
The Action Plan describes priority actions the EPA has identified to manage PFAS, which include: (1) evaluating the need for a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water; (2) taking steps to designate PFOA and PFOS as CERCLA hazardous substances; (3) developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites; and (4) developing toxicity values or oral reference doses (“RfDs”) for GenX chemicals and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (“PFBS”).
In addition to priority actions, the Action Plan identifies short-term and long-term actions to address PFAS contamination issues. The short-term actions aim to achieve three main objectives: (1) develop new analytical methods and tools for understanding and managing PFAS risk; (2) promulgate significant new use rules (“SNURs”) that require EPA notification before chemicals are used in new ways that may create human health and ecological concerns; and (3) take enforcement actions to help manage PFAS risks and exposures, where appropriate. The EPA expects these short-term actions to be completed within two years. The long-term actions address regulatory and research initiatives the EPA will pursue to reduce exposures and understand PFAS’s potential human health and environmental risks, including developing criteria and regulatory control for PFAS discharge. Other long-term efforts involve developing mechanisms to identify, collect, and share relevant data for PFAS monitoring.
The EPA’s Action Plan follows a series of state-initiated actions that made it difficult to assess exposure, mitigate risk, and protect human health and ecological pathways. The EPA’s decision to create a federal framework is a welcome first step, but regulatory and litigation uncertainty remain. Lawyers in Schwabe’s Manufacturing, Distribution, and Retail and Natural Resources industry groups have the knowledge and experience to navigate this evolving area of federal and state environmental law.