Proposed Bill to Designate PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances
By Lynn Fugaro, Staff Writer
PFAS is an acronym that stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. It would take a seasoned chemist to explain exactly what substances are in PFAS, but PFAS is an umbrella term used for a number of different chemicals that are extremely hazardous to human health.
A newly proposed bill called the PFAS Action Act introduced to the U.S. House last week would officially declare all PFAS chemicals hazardous substances. Even though the dangers of PFAS chemicals are well known, officially declaring them hazardous under the Superfund law would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use federal funding to clean up sites contaminated by PFAS chemicals.
The Superfund was established in 1980 as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA was passed as a response to the chemical contamination discovered at the Valley of the Drums in Kentucky and the Love Canal disaster in New York.
The Superfund would allow the EPA to pay for any removal or remediation necessary at a contamination site, but it also opens the door for the agency to determine if there are any responsible parties. If these chemicals are officially declared hazardous substances, companies will then become legally obligated to make a report if they become aware of PFAS chemicals being leaked into the environment. So, the EPA will not only be able to test and clean up any contaminated sites, but it would be able to recoup funds from any companies deemed responsible parties.
PFAS chemicals have been used to make things like firefighting foam, insulation, carpet, upholstery, Teflon (the material that makes your skillet nonstick), and paint since the 1940s. Exposure to PFAS in humans can affect infant growth and development, cause high cholesterol, and lead to an increased risk of cancer.
Many PFAS chemicals have been voluntarily phased out by manufacturers and are no longer being used. They are, however, still present in our environment. They have been found in rainwater, groundwater and air emissions. Humans are most likely to be exposed to these dangerous chemicals in contaminated soil that is used to grow food or in our drinking water. The prevalence in our environment means action must be taken in order to prevent humans from being exposed.
Over thirty sites in Michigan have already been found to have extremely high levels of PFAS chemicals. If this newly proposed bill passes, states will be able to test their sites and enlist the assistance of the federal government to remove and remediate the dangerous chemicals. If the EPA determines there are responsible parties, those parties will be required to pay for the cleanup efforts. If, however, responsible parties cannot be located or they do not have the funds to pay, federal funds can be used. Either way, states will have the assistance they need to combat these dangerous chemicals.