Forever Yours: PFAS and Diamonds
Valentine's Day is when the enamored declare their undying love, and suitors kneel to propose marriage with proffered diamond rings. Diamonds, you may have heard, are forever.
You may have heard that some chemicals last forever, too, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances are nicknamed “forever chemicals,” and for good reason.
PFAS are associated with forever because they are highly resistant to degradation, meaning they do not break down in the environment. That persistence is a virtue when put to good use: PFAS can make products grease-proof, water-proof, stick-proof, stain-resistant, or heat- or fire- resistant.
Forever (and Everywhere)
Many see diamonds as rare and special stones. PFAS, on the other hand, are not rare at all. In fact, there are about 9,000 different chemicals in the PFAS group.
Because they can make products more durable or longer-lasting, PFAS are found in countless items: Food packaging; microwave popcorn bags; non-stick pots and pans; firefighting foam and fire-resistant protective equipment; stain-proof clothing and outdoor gear; carpets, rugs, and furniture; car seats and window treatments; umbrellas; artificial turf; medical equipment, building materials; and more.
In addition, this class of chemicals has been found just about everywhere imaginable: From drinking water and soil to human breast milk and the blood of turtles on remote islands. PFAS are bio-accumulative, meaning they build up in the human body over time.
Speaking of Forever...
In September 2022, US EPA designated two PFAS chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—as "hazardous substances" covered by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), often called Superfund.
CERCLA hazardous substances are subject to a bevy of standards related to reporting releases, funding of environmental cleanup projects, and lasting liability for environmental damage or contamination.
There are implications for transportation, too: “hazardous substances” are included in US DOT’s definition of a hazardous material in 49 CFR 171.8. EPA plans to add more PFAS chemicals to the CERCLA hazardous substances list in early 2023.
In recent years, EPA has also added many PFAS to the list of reportable substances under the Right-to-Know (EPCRA) Toxics Release Inventory or TRI reporting program, sometimes referred to as SARA 313 or "Form R."Lion Members: Find out more about new regulations EPA is planning for 2023 (and beyond) in our coverage of the latest Unified Agenda of Regulatory Actions.
Are PFAS Hazardous Waste Under RCRA?
In 2021, New Mexico’s governor petitioned US EPA to regulate PFAS as hazardous waste, either as individual chemicals or as a class.
In response, EPA evaluated the available toxicity and health effects data for several common PFAS chemicals: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA, and/or GenX).
EPA may designate these four substances as RCRA Hazardous Constituents (40 CFR 261, Appendix VIII). That would ensure that they are subject to corrective action requirements. Adding these PFAS to Appendix VIII would also serve as a foundation for future efforts to regulate PFAS as hazardous waste under RCRA.
EPA plans to propose a rule to list these constituents in Appendix VIII later this year. The proposed rule, currently slated for August 2023, will be open to a public comment period.
Read more: EPA Plans 2 RCRA Rules for PFAS
Looking Forward to Forever
PFAS may improve our products and our lives, but there’s nothing to love about their effects on the environment and the human body. With more EPA regulations planned to address PFAS chemical management, disposal, and environmental contamination in the near future, this won't be the last we hear about PFAS in 2023.
In fact, there's a good chance that environmental and hazardous materials professionals will be talking about PFAS, well, forever.
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