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Chemical Regulation

Groups urge US EPA to strengthen PFAS rule

Latest proposal to restrict imports containing certain long-chain PFAS is narrower in scope than original

by Britt E. Erickson
April 23, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 16


A leading Democrat in Congress, a coalition of state attorneys general, and environmental groups are urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen a proposed rule that would require companies to notify the agency before importing products containing certain long-chain per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS).

Chemical structure of PFOA.

The EPA first proposed the rule in 2015 to address growing concerns about the health risks of long-chain PFAS, including perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). That initial rule would have restricted companies from importing all products containing these substances, which have been linked to cancer and immune system problems.

The rule sat for years until lawmakers and several states facing PFAS drinking water contamination pressured the agency to finalize it. Earlier this year, the EPA released a new version of the proposal that is narrower in scope than the original. The latest proposal would only apply to imported products that contain certain long-chain PFAS in a surface coating, rather than all products that contain the substances anywhere in the article.

Chemical structure of PFOS.

Documents turned up by Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, show that the Trump White House weakened the rule while it was under review by the Office of Management and Budget.

In an April 17 letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, Carper urges the EPA to resist efforts by political appointees to weaken the rule and “ensure the final rule is as protective as was originally envisioned.”

Attorneys general from 18 states and environmental groups are also pressuring the EPA to revert to the original proposal. “Disposal of articles containing PFAS in landfills, whether the PFAS are surface-coated onto or incorporated within the articles, is a common source of PFAS contamination throughout the country,” the attorneys general write in comments submitted to the EPA.

The EPA is expected to finalize the rule by June 22, the deadline Congress set in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.



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