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Important Updates on PFAS

Tom Flanagin

There has been significant activity in the first half of this year regarding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or fluorotechnology.

PFAS are vital to enabling our lives in the 21st century.

PFAS are a large and diverse universe of chemistries that make possible the products that power our lives — the cellphones, tablets and telecommunications we use every day to connect with our friends and family; the aircraft that powers the U.S. military; alternative energy sources; and medical devices that help keep us healthy.

We wanted to provide a snapshot of key events and activities so far in 2021.

Vermont DEC Concludes “not feasible” to regulate PFAS as a class

In April 2021, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, which was specifically charged by the legislature to develop a class regulation or to explain why such a regulation wasn’t possible, determined it is “not feasible” at this time to regulate PFAS as a class. We agree that attempts to regulate PFAS as a class are neither scientifically defensible nor appropriate, though the grouping of some substances within the class based on similar physical, chemical, and biological properties may be possible. 

New Paper Provides Context, Details on Number of Compounds Existing in Current Commercial Market

In May 2021, three member companies of the American Chemistry Council’s Performance Fluoropolymer Partnership (PFP) published a new paper that provides important context and clarity on the number of commercially relevant PFAS compounds that exist today. This paper is significant because some authorities claim that attempting to regulate many thousands of different substances would be unmanageable and could only be done by an unscientific ‘one size fits all’ regulatory approach. However, this research indicates that the number of commercially relevant PFAS in the market today numbers more likely in the hundreds, which would not present an unmanageable situation for regulatory authorities. This study further suggests that grouping and categorizing PFAS using fundamental classification criteria based on composition and structure can be used to identify appropriate groups of PFAS substances for risk assessment, which also dispels assertions that there are too many PFAS chemistries to conduct proper regulatory risk assessments.

Click here for the full paper. Click here for a fact sheet of its findings.

Fluoropolymers Are Vital for Life in the 21st Century

In January, Jay West, Executive Director of the PFP, published an opinion piece in Bloomberg making the case that fluoropolymers, one type of chemistry in the broad PFAS family, have a well-established safety profile, do not present a significant concern for human health or the environment, and should be differentiated from other PFAS for regulatory purposes. Click here to read the full piece.

EPA and New York Research Indicates Incineration Can Be Safe and Effective Means of PFAS Disposal

In late 2020, the EPA released interim guidance on the incineration of PFAS chemistries which indicated that properly designed and operated incinerators, landfills, and underground injection wells can be safe and effective means for the disposal of waste containing PFAS. And in March, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation released robust analysis surrounding the Norlite facility that supports the case that these chemistries can be safely managed when no longer in use. After analyzing soil and water samples around a cement kiln that treated fire-fighting foam containing PFAS from 2018-2019, DEC did not find a clear upwind/downwind gradient that would be expected if the PFAS were not being completely destroyed.

EPA Moving Forward with MCLs for PFOA and PFOS

In March, the EPA announced that it is moving forward with the establishment of standards for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). We support this work and believe the development of national drinking water standards for the two most common PFAS should give Americans greater confidence in the safety of the water they drink and help to eliminate some of the confusion caused by the patchwork of recent state actions. Manufacture of PFOA and PFOS was voluntarily eliminated in the United States several years ago. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported the results of human biomonitoring studies showing that exposure levels have dropped substantially. Moreover, a national survey of drinking water conducted by USEPA from 2013-15 indicated that less than 2 percent of public drinking water supplies in the U.S. had detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS. Click here for more information and read an opinion piece in Bloomberg here.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Moves Forward with Flawed Legislation

The PFAS Action Act applies a one-size-fits all approach to regulating the wide variety of PFAS chemistries. Such an approach is neither scientifically accurate nor appropriate, and would limit consumers’ access to important products they rely on.  Furthermore, this legislation takes decisions out of the hands of the career scientists at the EPA with respect to hazardous substance designations. The public should also know that there has been substantial work already done and underway in regulatory agencies and Congress to address potential concerns with PFAS chemistries. Learn more here. We hope this information is useful and helps present a fuller picture of the important discussion surrounding PFAS chemistries.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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