WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is drafting a new rule that would designate PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals that is a likely carcinogen, as a hazardous material.
The chemicals, often used for waterproofing, have been used in everything from Scotchgard to Teflon to a special foam used for fighting airplane fires. In recent years, PFAS has been found in drinking water sources in places including West Virginia and Michigan.
The hazardous designation under the Superfund Act would trigger faster cleanups when PFAS contamination is found and require companies that make PFAS to regularly report pollution. It would also ensure those companies are on the hook for cleanup if they are found to be responsible for water contamination.
“Up to now, what it’s been is a huge fight in the courts, where the companies have been denying, (saying), “This stuff isn’t harmful, you can’t prove that it’s causing any harm,'” environmental attorney Rob Bilott said.
He has spent decades in courts trying to prove communities that have recorded a spike in illnesses were poisoned by nearby factories that used PFAS.
“Having the U.S. EPA designate and declare this hazardous … (and) confirming these health effects is incredibly helpful,” Bilott said.
Melanie Benesh of the D.C.-based activist nonprofit Environmental Working Group called it “one of the most important steps that the EPA can take to address existing PFAS contamination.” For years, she has been working with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., to urge the EPA to take action.
“Too many people do not understand that they are encountering this chemical every single day,” Dingell said.
She said it’s important to hold companies accountable, but also said to fully protect Americans’ health, Congress should establish a national standard for the acceptable level of PFAS in drinking water.
The EPA is expected to move forward with its own rules establishing such a standard by the end of the year. All rules are subject to a public comment period in which companies have an opportunity to push back.