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US legislation would limit PFAS in industrial wastewater

Measure would also expand EPA’s definition of PFAS

by Cheryl Hogue
July 15, 2022

Plastic film going through a pair of rollers in a factory.
Credit: Shutterstock
Makers of plastics would be among the first industries to meet water pollution limits for PFAS in wastewater under legislation passed by the US House of Representatives.

The US Congress is moving to limit industrial releases of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to waterways and public sewage treatment plants. Limits on PFAS in wastewater discharges would apply to manufacturers of organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers starting in 2024, under a bill the House of Representatives passed July 14.

The measure would also increase the number of chemicals for which manufactures must supply production, use, and other data to the Environmental Protection Agency. PFAS refers to a large family of environmentally persistent synthetic compounds that are widely used in society. Some of the chemicals are toxic at extremely low levels.

The House added these PFAS provisions to a bill (H.R. 7900) that would fund the military in fiscal 2023. Representatives passed the measure 329-101.

H.R. 7900 would set the EPA on a fast-track to establish Clean Water Act limits on PFAS in wastewater discharges from industries known to have released PFAS. The first limits, due by June 30, 2024, would apply to makers of organic chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers along with electroplaters and metal finishers. A year later, EPA would set limits for landfills, textile mills, and makers of electrical and electronic components. And in 2026, the agency would finalize standards for paint formulators, companies that mold and form plastic, and leather tanneries.

The Clean Water Act provision in the defense-spending legislation was an amendment added to the bill just before it was passed. It contains the language of a bill (H.R. 7696) sponsored by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH).

Another amendment would require manufacturers to submit information about production, processing, use, disposal, safety, and worker exposure on more chemicals than the EPA proposed last year under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The legislation would do so by expanding the agency’s definition of PFAS under TSCA to include any compound that “contains at least one fully fluorinated carbon atom.” The agency currently defines PFAS as “chemicals with at least two adjacent carbon atoms, where one carbon is fully fluorinated and the other is at least partially fluorinated.”

The amendment to broaden the definition contains the language of a bill (H.R. 5987) introduced by Reps. Deborah Ross (D-NC) and Nancy Mace (R-SC).

The US chemical industry opposes both amendments.

In a July 13 letter to members of the House, Chris Jahn, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry trade group, points out that the EPA is already working on Clean Water Act limits for PFAS. The Pappas provision “circumvents established processes,” says the letter, which the ACC emailed to C&EN.

Jahn adds, “It is neither scientifically accurate nor appropriate to group all PFAS together or take a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach for this wide range of substances.” The broader definition used in the legislation “would pull in a wide range of beneficial technologies and uses that pose no threat to human health or the environment.”

“The chemical industry’s strange argument­—that there are too many PFAS to tell people about­­­­—was unpersuasive,” says Daniel Rosenberg, director of federal toxics policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We need the Senate to follow the House and ensure Congress protects the public’s right to know about all the PFAS that we are being exposed to, whatever the source.”

The military funding bill now heads to the Senate for action.


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