On Monday, October 18, the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021 to 2014.” This roadmap lays out a three-year multi-agency strategy describing specific regulations with deadlines and research the EPA plans to understand where additional controls may be needed relating to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The actions described in the roadmap are subject to the availability of appropriations and other resources.
PFAS are a group of thousands of chemicals, including hundreds actively used in commerce to give industrial equipment and consumer products special electrical as well as heat-, oil-, water-, and corrosion-resistant properties. The fire service uses these chemicals due to their fire-resistant properties in PPE and their extinguishing capabilities in firefighting foams for fires involving fuel.
PFAS are often dubbed “forever chemicals” because some of the chemicals linger for decades in people’s bodies and seemingly forever in the environment. There are still substantial gaps in the understanding of PFAS toxicity, and one of this roadmap’s focuses is to conduct additional research in this area. Certain PFAS varieties have been linked to health problems such as cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened immune systems. The effects of PFAS have triggered lawsuits aimed at chemical producers that use PFAS to make thousands of consumer products, including outdoor gear, textiles, coated papers for fast-food takeout, and surfactants for electronics manufacturing.
The administration’s PFAS strategy engages seven other agencies, including: the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the departments of Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The PFAS Roadmap has a three-pronged approach research, restrict, and remediate. Through this framework, the EPA will seek to hold polluters and other responsible parties accountable for their actions, ensuring that they assume responsibility for remediation efforts and prevent any future releases. Some of the sectors the EPA is eyeing for discharge limits in this roadmap include airports, electrical equipment manufacturers, metal finishing, pulp and paper mills, landfills, and textile and carpet manufacturers.
The PFAS Roadmap proposes the following:
- Enhance PFAS reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory by Spring 2022. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) helps EPA compile data and information on releases of certain chemicals. Pursuant to P.L. 116-92, the 2020 Nation Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), certain industry sectors must report certain PFAS releases to TRI. However, certain exemptions and exclusions remain for those PFAS. EPA intends to categorize the PFAS on the TRI list as “Chemicals of Special Concern” and to remove the de minimis exemption from supplier notification requirements.
- Finalize new PFAS reporting under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 8 by Winter 2022. TSCA Section 8(a)(7) provides authority for EPA to collect existing information on PFAS. In June 2021, the EPA published a proposed data-gathering rule that would collect certain information on any PFAS manufactured since 2011, including information on uses, production volumes, disposal, exposures.
- Undertake nationwide monitoring for PFAS in drinking water by Fall 2021. As proposed, and if funds are appropriated by Congress, all public water systems serving 3,300 or more people and 800 representative public water systems serving fewer than 3,300 would collect samples during a 12-month period from January 2023 through December 2025.
- The EPA expects to complete a risk assessment of PFOA and PFOS in biosolids by the winter of 2024 to determine if regulations are needed. Restrict PFAS discharges from industrial sources through a multi‑faceted Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) program. This is expected in 2022 and will be an ongoing effort. EPA has been conducting a PFAS multi-industry study to inform the extent and nature of PFAS discharges. Based on this study, EPA is taking a proactive approach to restrict PFAS discharges from multiple industrial categories. EPA plans to monitor industrial categories where the phaseout of PFAS is projected by 2024, including airports.
- Leverage National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting to reduce PFAS discharges to waterways by Winter 2022. The NPDES program interfaces with many pathways by which PFAS are released into the environment. EPA will seek to proactively use existing NPDES authorities to reduce discharges of PFAS at the source and obtain more comprehensive information through monitoring the sources of PFAS and quantity of PFAS discharged by these sources. EPA will use the effluent monitoring data to inform which industrial categories it should study for future ELGs actions to restrict PFAS in wastewater discharges.
- Set final drinking water limits for the two most studied and particularly hazardous PFAS: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) by fall 2023.
- Designate certain PFAS as hazardous superfund substances by summer 2023. EPA is developing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to designate PFOA and PFOS as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) hazardous substances. Such designations would require facilities across the country to report on PFOA and PFOS releases that meet or exceed the reportable quantity assigned to these substances. The hazardous substance designations would also enhance the ability of federal, tribal, state, and local authorities to obtain information regarding the location and extent of releases. EPA or other agencies also could seek cost recovery or contributions for costs incurred for the cleanup. The proposed rulemaking will be available for public comment in Spring 2022. The EPA commits to conducting robust stakeholder engagement with communities near PFAS-contaminated sites. Going forward, EPA will consider designating additional PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA as more specific information related to the health effects of those PFAS and methods to measure them in groundwater are developed.
- Issue updated guidance on destroying and disposing of certain PFAS and PFAS-containing materials by Fall 2023.
- Develop and validate methods to detect and measure PFAS in the environment, this will be an ongoing effort. To date, EPA has developed validated methods to measure 29 PFAS in drinking water and 24 PFAS in groundwater, surface water, and wastewater. EPA has also developed a method for measuring selected PFAS in air emissions. EPA also recognizes the need for “total PFAS” methods that can measure the amount of PFAS in environmental samples without identifying specific PFAS.
- Evaluate and develop technologies for reducing PFAS in the environment, this will be an ongoing effort.
- Engage directly with affected communities in every EPA Region by Fall 2021 and continue as an ongoing effort. EPA will meet with affected communities in each EPA Region to hear how PFAS contamination impacts their lives and livelihoods.
- Use enforcement tools to better identify and address PFAS releases at facilities, this is an ongoing effort. The EPA is initiating actions under multiple environmental authorities to identify past and ongoing releases of PFAS into the environment at facilities where PFAS has been used, manufactured, discharged, disposed of, released, and/or spilled. EPA’s enforcement authorities allow it, under certain circumstances, to require parties responsible for PFAS contamination to characterize the nature and extent of PFAS contamination, to put controls in place to limit future releases expeditiously, and to address contaminated drinking water, soils, and other contaminated media.
- Establish a PFAS Voluntary Stewardship Program by Spring 2022. The program, which will not supplant the industry’s regulatory or compliance requirements, will call on the industry to go beyond those requirements by reporting all PFAS releases in order to establish a baseline and then continuing to report to measure progress in reducing releases over time. EPA will validate industry efforts to meet reduction targets and timelines.
- Educate the public about the risks of PFAS, an ongoing effort that will begin in Fall 2021.
- Issue an annual public report on progress towards PFAS commitments, starting in Winter 2022.
Other PFAS efforts announced by the White House:
- The Department of Defense (DoD), which has used specialized firefighting foams containing PFAS for decades to put out jet fuel and other fires quickly, is examining the PFAS concentrations at nearly 700 installations it and the National Guard operated, and that may have released the chemicals. The Pentagon expects to complete the assessments by the end of 2023.
- The DoD is also spending $220 million researching on the detection, treatment, and destruction of PFAS, along with substitute chemicals that can be used for the specialized firefighting foams that currently contain PFAS.
- The Federal Aviation Administration is working to help airports, which also need the specialized jet fuel fighting foams, switch to formulations without PFAS.
- The Food and Drug Administration is undertaking studies to understand the extent of PFAS in the food supply.
- The Department of Homeland Security also operates firefighting training and other facilities that have released PFAS. A new DHS-wide Emerging Contaminants Working Group will be coordinating its PFAS-remediation efforts.
The IAFC will closely monitor the Biden Administration’s actions relating to PFAS as it implements the proposed strategy above and ensure that the administration will consider the needs of the fire service as it assembles the above regulations. The IAFC is committed to sharing best practices for PFAS usage when needed to extinguish fires and supports funding for research to develop effective non-PFAS firefighting foams.
Ryan Woodward is the IAFC's manager of Government Relations & Policy.