EPA has announced its first ever comprehensive nationwide Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan. This action plan attempts to address two of the most common PFAS chemicals; PFOA and PFOS. Despite having called this press conference, no definitive regulations have yet been set in place. This has led to some frustrated state regulatory agencies deciding to move on without EPA in fear that EPA regulations may take 10 years or more to materialize and finalize, if ever.
So far, 8 states have adopted bills regarding PFAS chemicals and other states are already trying to determine what to do about them. Because regulations may be seen on the state level before the federal, we believe an awareness of this issue – what is it, why is it important – will prove to be highly beneficial.
In seminars and conferences, we’ve even heard these mentioned as potentially “the new asbestos” in terms of prevalence of exposure and need for elimination.
SO WHAT ARE PFAS CHEMICALS?
Simply put, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a class of man-made chemicals that are widely used in industrial processes and can be found in many consumer products. They are split into two groups: Polymers and Non-polymers. To be a bit more specific, PFAS chemicals are chains of carbon atoms that are bonded by fluorine atoms. The chemistry is very complex, which is what allows for there to be thousands upon thousands of variations existing in commerce today.
WHERE CAN PFAS BE FOUND?
It would almost be easier to say where they aren’t found! PFAS chemicals can be found anywhere; in pizza boxes, cookware, paints, polishes, electronics manufacturing, fuel additive, and more! There are even cases of the direct release of PFAS products into the environment. The use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for fire fighting, chrome surfacing facilities, landfills, and wastewater treatment all contribute to the release of PFAS chemicals in the environment.
Some applications where PFAS-containing materials are used include:
- Water and stain resistance in textile and paper coating
- Plastics manufacturing
- Reducing surface tension in surface coatings
- Stabilizing agents for metal finishing and electroplating
- Industrial rinse agents
- Solder wetting agents and coatings in semiconductors
- Cable and wiring manufacturing
- Building and construction
- Anywhere that uses fire fighting foams (military, oil refineries, manufacturing, airfields)
- Recovery in metal mining and oil extraction
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Some PFAS chemicals are known to be persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative in organisms, and toxic at relatively low levels. The fact that PFAS chemicals come in so many shapes and sizes and in so many industries and consumer products means that an alarmingly high percentage of people have been exposed to PFAS chemicals. Contaminated drinking water is the best documented source of known human exposure pathways, but food, house dust, and workplace exposure are amongst the top as well. In communities with contaminated drinking water, human health effects include higher cholesterol, increased uric acid, lower birth weight, lower response to vaccines, diabetes, cancer, and more.
EPA’s ACTION PLAN
EPA’s Action Plan covers a number of different areas. However, most of these plans are in the development, research, and pre-regulatory phase. They are focusing efforts on developing rules and tools for Cleanup, Monitoring, Research, Communication, and Drinking Water. For more information on PFAS chemicals , visit EPA’S PFAS data and tools website at https://www.epa.gov/pfas/epa-pfas-data-and-tools.