In July 2021, Maine legislators took a huge step in banning “forever chemicals,” also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (we actually wrote an article about it, too, and you can read about the specific legislation here).
On Monday, October 18, the Environmental Protection Agency under the Biden Administration announced a three-year plan to regulate PFSAs. It’s a comprehensive, research-based plan ultimately leading to restrictions for the use of these chemicals.
PFASs have been given the nickname of “forever chemicals” due to their atomic structure which makes them virtually resistant to degradation. The effect of PFASs on the environment is devastating, and it’s true for humans too. These chemicals are found in people and animals all over the world, and since they aren’t degradable, they can accumulate in our systems over time. The direct effects of PFASs on humans aren’t well known, the EPA has linked certain levels of PFASs to increased risk of cancer, decreased fertility and high blood pressure in pregnant women, high cholesterol, developmental delays in children, and a weakened immune system (leading to a drop in vaccine efficacy).
So, what is the EPA going to do to cut down the risks (and uses) of PFASs? Let’s break down the plan…
The goals of the EPA’s assessment are threefold: first, they want to research PFASs more thoroughly, focusing specifically on impacts to human and environmental health. Next, they are going to use these findings to propose regulatory guidelines for the use of PFASs by public and private companies. Finally, they want to assess and mediate the damage that PFASs have already made. The EPA plans to complete these goals by the end of the first term of the Biden-Harris Administration, giving them about three years total.
EPA’s administrator, Michael S. Regan, acknowledges the challenge of this undertaking. It will take a combination of EPA’s resources and partnerships to achieve the goals that are laid out in this plan. Their approach is a holistic and interdisciplinary one, based on the following principles: understanding more about the lifecycles of PFASs through evidence-based research, holding polluters accountable and stopping PFAS contamination at its source, and ensuring equitable policy-making so that all people will have access to solutions, not just privileged communities. The last principle will be informed by input from communities directly affected by PFAS contamination.
There has already been pushback from the American Chemical Society, a lobbying group that represents chemical manufacturers. They want to make sure that regulations are science-based, and that not all PFASs are treated the same way due to their variety of chemical makeups.
The EPA’s comprehensive strategy can be read in full here. While this is only the first step in regulating these toxic and dangerous chemicals, it is an important one.