Proposed Rule on PFAS Chemicals Falls Short Despite Potential $1 Billion Cost to Companies

Proposed rule on PFAS "forever chemicals" could cost companies $1 billion, but health experts say it still falls short

July 06, 2023: A proposed federal rule addresses the issue of toxic “forever” chemicals known as PFAS by requiring companies to disclose whether their products contain these hazardous substances. PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a family of chemicals that do not degrade in nature and have been linked to severe health issues like cancer, birth defects, and hormone irregularities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed this rule to catalog the extent of PFAS usage across the United States. It mandates manufacturers to report any PFAS used in their products between 2011 and the rule’s effective date, with no exemptions for small businesses or cross-contamination instances. The disclosed information will be made available, excluding trade secrets. The EPA plans to finalize the rule in the coming months and expects companies to report within 12 months of its implementation.

However, the proposed rule has faced criticism from industry and environmental health experts. Chemical and semiconductor industries are concerned about the estimated $1 billion cost of compliance with the rule, arguing that it could burden their operations. On the other hand, environmental health activists believe the rule fails to address the broader issue of PFAS contamination. They argue that the proposed data collection exercise accounts for only a fraction of the more than 12,000 PFAS chemicals currently in use and fails to prevent further contamination or clean up existing pollution.

The EPA’s ability to track PFAS chemicals was granted by Congress in 2016 through the revision of the Toxic Substances Control Act. However, health activists emphasize that comprehensive reform of U.S. chemical laws is necessary to empower agencies like the EPA and effectively address the PFAS threat to human health and the environment.

While the proposed rule represents a step toward understanding the prevalence of PFAS in consumer products, it has limitations. It excludes specific categories such as pesticides, food and food additives, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Additionally, it is a one-time reporting requirement, and companies would not be obligated to provide updates.

The issue of PFAS contamination extends beyond this proposed rule, as individual states have taken their own measures to tackle the problem. Some states have implemented bans on PFAS in various products, such as menstrual products, cleaning ingredients, cookware, and dental floss. However, critics argue that these state-level actions can only fully address the existing contamination with stronger federal laws and regulations.

PFAS chemicals have garnered attention due to their widespread use in various consumer products, making it crucial to gather comprehensive data on their scope and impact. While the EPA’s proposed data collection initiative is a step in the right direction, it is just the beginning. Environmental advocates stress the need for Congress to expand federal environmental statutes to cover PFAS and other harmful chemicals in water, air, food, and consumer products.

It remains to be seen how the proposed rule will be received by consumers and whether it will spur further demand for market change. However, the disclosures resulting from this rule could provide valuable information to scientists, regulators, and legal professionals, leading to potential phaseouts of PFAS and increased awareness among consumers.

In summary, the proposed federal rule on PFAS chemicals must fully address the issue despite potentially costing companies $1 billion in compliance. While it introduces a disclosure requirement for PFAS-containing products, it does not cover the full range of PFAS chemicals nor address contamination prevention or cleanup. Stronger federal regulations and state-level actions are necessary to effectively protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of PFAS chemicals.

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