The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated two widely used PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

The designation under CERCLA, also known as Superfund, means that the EPA will sue certain entities to pay to clean up any contamination.

“This final action will address PFOA and PFOS contamination by enabling investigation and cleanup of these harmful chemicals and ensuring that leaks, spills, and other releases are reported,” the EPA says. “This action builds on the recently finalized standards to protect people and communities from PFAS contamination in drinking water.”

In addition to the final rule, EPA issued a separate CERCLA enforcement discretion policy that says that EPA will focus enforcement on parties who significantly contributed to the release of PFAS chemicals into the environment, including parties that have manufactured PFAS or used PFAS in the manufacturing process, federal facilities, and other industrial parties.

PFAS Strategic Roadmap

“EPA launched its PFAS Strategic Roadmap, a whole-of-agency approach to protecting public health and addressing the harm to communities overburdened by PFAS pollution,” says EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities.”

EPA says it is taking this step to designate PFOA and PFOS under CERCLA because both chemicals meet the statutory criteria for designation as hazardous substances. Under the rule, the agency says entities must immediately report releases of PFOA and PFOS that meet or exceed the reportable quantity of one pound within 24 hours to the National Response Center and state, Tribal, and local emergency responders. The EPA says the designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA “enables the agency to use one of its strongest enforcement tools to compel polluters to pay for or conduct investigations and cleanup, rather than taxpayers. The designation is critical as delay in addressing contamination allows PFOA and PFOS more time to migrate in water and soil, worsening existing contamination.”

The EPA says the final rule also means that federal entities that transfer or sell their property “must provide notice about the storage, release, or disposal of PFOA or PFOS on the property and guarantee that contamination has been cleaned up or if needed, that additional cleanup will occur in the future. It will also lead the Department of Transportation to list and regulate these substances as hazardous materials under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.”

‘Based On Significant Scientific Evidence’

The EPA says this final action is “based on significant scientific evidence that these substances when released into the environment, may present a substantial danger to public health or welfare or the environment.” The agency says PFOA and PFOS can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods, and evidence from scientific studies demonstrates that exposure to PFOA and PFOS is linked to adverse health effects. 

The EPA says the Superfund program “addresses more than 800 hazardous substances, including widespread, highly mobile, and persistent chemicals, like PFOA and PFOS. The program also promotes safer industrial practices that enhance community protections by reducing the likelihood of future releases.” Additionally, the agency says cleanups allow communities to put land back into productive use, providing opportunities for jobs and economic growth.

EPA will publish the Final Rule in the Federal Register, and it will be effective 60 days after that.