The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Strategic Roadmap for PFAS compounds has triggered a flurry of webinars and white papers by remediation companies and law firms. Each one is urging businesses with any connection to the so-called “forever chemicals” to prepare for an onslaught of cradle-to-grave government oversight.
Here are just a handful of news stories and legal briefings from the past few weeks:
- EPA Seeks Cooperation from Senate to Assist with its efforts to Regulate PFAS
- PFAS: Navigating a New Frontier in Environmental Regulation
- Senate Committee Holds Hearing on “Evaluating the Federal Response to the Persistence and Impacts of PFAS Chemicals on our Environment”
- As the PFAS Panic Continues, EPA Tries to Keep Up with the States
The EPA roadmap details a broad range of new research, regulatory, and remedial steps it plans to take to address PFAS contamination. It outlines a variety of regulatory actions under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act, Clean Air Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act.
Among the first actions the EPA is expected to take is publishing draft drinking water standards for the two oldest and most studied PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS. These compounds have not been made in the United States for years, but continue to contaminate water in areas near airports and military bases — where fire retardant containing the chemicals was widely used — and near landfills where products containing these compounds degrade and leach into ground water.
Law firms specializing in corporate clients are wasting no time issuing strongly worded warnings to companies to prepare compliance strategies, conduct audits of PFAS use, review real estate transactions, check insurance contracts, and — of course — retain experienced legal counsel to deal with the looming regulatory juggernaut.
It’s official. The PFAS panic is on.
The question, from our perspective, is whether the scientific facts clearly distinguish the risks of realistic levels of PFAS exposure — not simply the hazards that overexposure may cause — that would justify the rush to regulate.
The most critical component of the EPA’s roadmap is a provision calling for additional research on 24 classes of PFAS compounds. As Center-funded research will demonstrate in the coming weeks, there are simply too many branches in the PFAS family of compounds to regulate them identically — and among them, many valuable uses that result in minimal exposure.
The Center is not a regulator nor an advocate for a pre-ordained regulatory outcome on PFAS or any other compound. Our sole interest is in ensuring that validated scientific evidence and thorough cost-benefit analysis are used by policymakers to make the best possible legal and regulatory decisions.
In this case, it seems the EPA should focus on the containment, remediation, and prevention of future contamination of PFOA and PFOS in the locations where it exists today, while continuing to determine the risks and benefits of exposure to modern PFAS compounds. Doing so will lead to the development of appropriate oversight that balances innovation with public health.