EPA Designates PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances, Enabling Cleanup and Accountability

EPA designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous, enabling cleanup of PFAS contamination, with women potentially shedding these 'forever chemicals' through menstruation, though this complicates exposure assessment.

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Safak Costu
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EPA Designates PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances, Enabling Cleanup and Accountability

EPA Designates PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances, Enabling Cleanup and Accountability

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a notable action in addressing the health risks associated with PFAS chemicals by designating two common types, PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. This move will enable the EPA to compel polluters to pay for or conduct investigations and cleanups of PFAS contamination, rather than placing the burden on taxpayers.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), often referred to as "forever chemicals," are toxic compounds found in many household items and have become widespread in the environment. Most Americans have some level of PFAS in their bloodstream, and these chemicals have been linked to various health issues, including cancer, immune system damage, and developmental problems.

The EPA's action is based on scientific evidence that PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body, leading to negative health consequences. By designating these chemicals as hazardous substances under Superfund, the EPA can address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups while ensuring that polluters bear the costs.

Why this matters: The EPA's designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances is a vital step in protecting public health and holding polluters accountable for PFAS contamination. This action will accelerate the cleanup of contaminated sites and ensure that communities across the United States are safeguarded from the damaging effects of these persistent chemicals.

Interestingly, recent research has shown that women may have a way of partially eliminating PFAS chemicals from their bodies through menstrual bleeding. PFAS tend to bind to proteins in the blood, and menstrual bleeding can lead to a lower body burden or blood concentration of these substances compared to non-menstruating individuals. However, this elimination route is limited, as PFAS can also accumulate in tissues, and people are constantly exposed to these chemicals in their daily lives.

The ability to shed PFAS through menstruation may also complicate efforts to accurately measure the true health impact of PFAS exposure, as scientists could potentially underestimate the exposure levels of those with excessive menstrual bleeding. Understanding this dynamic could inform healthcare decisions, such as potentially recommending changes to birth control methods for certain heavily exposed populations.

The EPA's enforcement discretion policy will focus on parties who have significantly contributed to the release of PFAS chemicals into the environment. This action follows a report by the National Academies of Science that calls PFAS a serious public health threat in the U.S. and worldwide. While the American Chemistry Council, representing the chemical industry, opposes the EPA's decision, arguing that

Key Takeaways

  • EPA designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, enabling cleanup of contamination.
  • PFAS are "forever chemicals" linked to health issues like cancer and developmental problems.
  • Menstruation may partially eliminate PFAS, complicating exposure measurement and health impact.
  • EPA's policy will hold polluters accountable for PFAS releases into the environment.
  • Chemical industry opposes EPA's decision, arguing against the hazardous substance designation.