U.S. Proposes Tighter Regulation of PFAS


The United States Environmental Protection Agency has proposed chemical safety regulation amendments that would tighten control over introduction of new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, eliminating exemptions to ensure new varieties of these chemicals always undergo a full risk evaluation.

Announced May 16, the proposal still must undergo a process that allows public feedback but would be consistent with previously stated intentions of President Joseph Biden’s administration to more closely regulate a group of chemicals that is drawing increasing scrutiny.

PFAS are a very wide group of chemicals, at least some of which persist in the environment and accumulate in animals and humans. Concerns about them arose in recent years after studies found them highly present in soil, water, animals and people. Some preliminary studies have suggested that some PFAS may cause health problems such as liver damage and harm to immune systems.

As a result, numerous governments around the world have begun regulating them or are considering doing so. For example, some governments have prohibited plastic wrap containing PFAS from being used to wrap meats and other foods.

Some PFAS are used in lubricants – for example polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE, also known by the brand name Teflon, which are used as friction-modifying additives. They are also used in fire-resistant hydraulic fluids to prevent fires.

Biden’s administration made it a priority to protect against the hazards of PFAS, which are referred to as forever chemicals. EPA has said that more over-arching restrictions may come in the future.

The package of proposals the agency announced last month would amend sections of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation’s primary law regulating chemical hazards. One change would eliminate existing exemptions allowing new PFAS to avoid risk determination if they qualify as low volume or as presenting a low risk of exposure because of low release into the environment.

New PFAS that would have qualified for these exemptions will now need to undergo the same risk determination as most substances. Where those reviews determine that a substance does present risk, they may be subject to safety measures such as being required to bear warning labels, mandatory handling instructions and requirements or in some cases prohibition of use.

The proposed changes to TSCA will be published in the Federal Register. That will open a 60-day period for public comment, after which the proposals may be adopted with or without changes.