The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes classifying nine forever chemicals as hazardous in an effort to strengthen protections for drinking water supplies.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” are widely used and long-lasting chemicals found in household items and drinking water systems.
The toxic chemicals build up in our bodies — 98% of the human population have them in their blood — never break down in the environment. Moreover, they are increasingly associated with severe health risks, including cancer.
The EPA’s proposal includes modifying the definition of hazardous waste as it applies to cleanups at permitted hazardous waste facilities. This would enable the agency to require cleanup of the full range of substances that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) intended, including PFAS.
The agency also proposes to amend its RCRA regulations to add nine PFAS compounds as hazardous constituents.
“Thanks to strong partnerships with our co-regulators in the states, we will strengthen our ability to clean up contamination from PFAS, hold polluters accountable and advance public health protections,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
The chemicals the EPA considers hazardous are perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, perfluorobutanesulfonic acid, hexafluoropropylene oxide-dimer acid, perfluorononanoic acid, perfluorohexanesulfonic acid, perfluorodecanoic acid, perfluorohexanoic acid, perfluorobutanoic acid.
The EPA says the changes in regulations would strengthen protections for communities and drinking water supplies located near the 1,740 hazardous waste facilities across the United States.
The health risks of forever chemicals
To be listed as a hazardous constituent under RCRA, chemicals must be proven to have toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic (permanently changing DNA), or teratogenic (causing fetal abnormalities) effects on humans and other life forms.
Thus far, the exposure to PFAS has been associated with the following health risks:
- Increases in cholesterol levels
- Changes in liver enzymes
- Small decreases in birth weight
- Lower antibody response to some vaccines
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia
- Kidney and testicular cancer
A recent study has linked PFAS to a higher risk of thyroid cancer. As endocrine-disrupting chemicals, PFAS may impact hormone-producing glands, including the thyroid gland.
Concern over the dangers of PFAS, the industrial usage of which started in the 1940s, is growing in other countries, too. The chemicals were recently found in the blood of 16 European Union political leaders as part of the campaign to raise awareness.
More than 200 million Americans have drinking water PFAS that exceeds safe levels, and these chemicals are found in many household items. As it makes it nearly impossible to avoid exposure to forever chemicals, changes in regulations are desperately needed.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Biden-Harris administration announces new steps to protect communities from PFAS and other emerging chemicals of concern.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Proposal to list nine per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds as resource conservation and recovery act hazardous constituents.
- CDC. What are the health effects of PFAS?
- National Library of Medicine. Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in the U.S. population: Data from the National Health and Nutrition examination survey (NHANES) 2003–2004 and comparisons with NHANES 1999–2000.
- Environmental Working Group. Study: More than 200 Million Americans could have toxic PFAS in their drinking water.