The EPA Rolls Out New Restrictions on PFAS Chemicals in Products
The problem is that all these qualities in seemingly innocuous items come with the consequences of containing toxic substances known as PFAS chemicals.
For the better part of 20 years, the EPA has been actively working on an ambitious PFAS Action Plan to tackle the health and environmental problems these chemicals leave in their wake.
This article will review the latest updates on restrictions and regulatory requirements, as well as propose avenues to be compliant and proactively contribute to a safer and healthier environment.
PFAS Chemicals 101
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) comprise thousands of man-made substances characterized as long-chain chemicals (i.e. containing eight carbon atoms).
Some of the most well known PFAS include Teflon™, introduced in the mid-1940s by DuPont and 3M’s Scotchgard™.
Had it not been for revelations and studies aiming to correlate the presence of Teflon in tap water with illnesses in the plant’s vicinity, we may have been kept unaware and unprotected for many years. Ultimately, a 2001 lawsuit cascaded into multiplied scientific research initiatives and contributed to uncovering the myriad of other harmful compounds.
How exactly are PFAS chemicals harmful? The major problem comes from their unwillingness to disappear. They don’t disintegrate. Their potency doesn’t wane with time. As such, they keep accumulating in the soil, in the air, in water, and inevitably in the human body and our food chain; they are “forever chemicals”, linked to:
- Some types of cancer
- Fertility or reproductive issues
- Weakened immunity
- Hormonal imbalances
- Increased cholesterol
Prior to this new restriction, some states already enacted some regulations regarding PFAS:
EPA’s Restrictions on PFAS Chemicals
Of the many harmful chemicals in wide use, some have already been phased out (though they may still be present in goods imported in the US).
The objective of the EPA’s action plan is to address the old, the new, the bad, and the ugly in an upfront manner. Per Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator, the PFAS Action Plan has been one of a kind from its inception:
“It was the first time we have used all of our program offices to deal with an emerging chemical of concern.”
The EPA is implementing several concomitant steps to increase the chances of long-term success for the program:
- Determine the acceptable maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOAS chemicals, specifically in drinking water
- Evaluate the necessity to designate them as harmful substances
- Issue guidelines for groundwater cleanup
- Review proposed safer alternatives, requesting testing if deemed necessary
The PFAS Action Plan poses itself as the first multi-media, multi-program, national research, management, and risk communication plan. Their process to determine the dangerousness of a substance is based on:
- The potentially adverse effect on human health
- The likelihood that the contaminant will occur in public water systems frequently and at alarming levels
- Whether regulation may make a significant positive difference on health outcomes
If we were to put it in other words, it would be very similar to the EU POPs regulation that places restrictions on PFAS and other substances that:
- Are dispersed far across borders via the soil, air or water,
- Remain intact for many years,
- Accumulate in living organisms and are more present at higher levels of the food chain,
- Are toxic to humans and animals.
What It Means for Your Business
The program calls for disclosure at least 90 days prior to use in production or placement on the market, whether for imported or domestically produced goods, including the case of so-called safer alternatives in the form of short-chain chemicals.
If uncertain or not previously reported, you will need to test and prove that the chemicals are not candidates for the blacklist of their PFAS cousins. The same goes for new uses of imported products. According to the EPA:
“When finalized, this rule would ensure that uses which are phased out in products like furniture, automobile parts, electronics, and household appliances that could contain these PFAS chemicals as a surface coating cannot be imported to the U.S.”
Enforcement, Evolution, and Solutions
The action plan on PFAS Chemicals is closely linked to other chemical management regulatory programs already in place. Compounds have already been added to California Proposition 65.
The EPA is also determined to expand and strengthen enforcement. In fact, West Virginia and North Carolina experienced the weight of the law in 2019 for violations under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as did Michigan.
The EPA recently published the final version of the rule, though changes are to be expected. The evolutionary characteristic of such a far-reaching program highlights the necessity to keep abreast of chemical management programs and regulations.
How We Can Help
At Source Intelligence, our mission is to make regulatory compliance easy for businesses of any size. It can be costly and time consuming for businesses to stay current on all regulations, especially if you do business globally. Our PFAS solution stems from over a decade of experience and a constant commitment to providing support for chemical management.
By utilizing AI technology, our platform is able to collect documentation from your entire supply chain, identify risks, and roll up data into different reporting templates that comply with over 50 global regulations. To learn more about how we can help you, request a demo with one of our compliance experts.