EPA Announces Proposal to Classify Nine “Forever Chemicals” as Hazardous

The proposal would have a positive effect on cleanup efforts

Processing PFAS
A lab processes water containing PFAS.

In the last five years, PFAS – also known as “forever chemicals” – have entered the lexicon in a big way. A look at search data from Google shows a significant increase in the use of the term beginning in 2019. A 2022 Vox interview with Harvard’s Elsie M. Sunderland provides a good overview of the subject, and also includes Sunderland’s statement about the importance of “regulating chemicals as a class.”

As a Guardian article from earlier this month pointed out, governments around the world are shifting their strategy when it comes to forever chemicals — specifically, reckoning with the PFAS that are already in the environment. All of which makes a recent announcement from the EPA especially intriguing in its implications.

The EPA proposed adding “nine particular per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds” to the agency’s list of “hazardous constituents.” As per the agency’s announcement, this would strengthen the EPA’s response to existing forever chemical pollution, with the proposal bolstering the agency’s “ability to address PFAS contamination under the RCRA cleanup program.”

As NPR’s Ayana Archie reported, the next step is for the agency to hear public comments on the proposal, a period that will last 60 days.

The EPA’s announcement of the proposal cited a 2021 petition from New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, calling for the agency to respond to the presence of forever chemicals in the environment. Come early April, we should have a better sense of the EPA’s capabilities for responding to deposits of PFAS.

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