Plastics factories could face tougher regulations around industrial discharges of PFAS "forever" chemicals, under a new roadmap unveiled October 18 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The widely anticipated plan from President Joe Biden's administration sets what it calls an "aggressive" timeline for new drinking water standards, as well as including plastics among nine industrial sectors that could face tougher rules on their industrial water discharges.
The EPA's PFAS Strategic Roadmap said the agency will propose new regulations for "plastics and synthetic fiber" manufacturing by summer 2023, as well as looking at the "plastics molding and forming" sector to see if stricter rules are needed there for discharges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS.
The roadmap says the agency has enough data to make new rules governing plastics and synthetic fibers by mid-2023, but it placed molding and other plastics processing operations in a different category, where it says it needs more information.
The document said it would "initiate data reviews for industrial categories for which there is little known information on PFAS discharges, including leather tanning and finishing, plastics molding and forming and paint formulating."
It said it wanted to complete those data reviews by winter 2023 to see if "there are sufficient data to initiate a potential rulemaking."
In a news release, EPA said the roadmap aims to increase investment in research, take action to restrict PFAS releases and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS contamination.
"For far too long, families across America — especially those in underserved communities — have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air or in the land their children play on," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.
The EPA announcement was met with cautious comments from the American Chemistry Council, which said EPA recognized the differences between the approximately 600 types of PFAS chemicals in use in products ranging from cellphones to solar panels.
"The American Chemistry Council supports the strong, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances," ACC said. "But all PFAS are not the same, and they should not all be regulated the same way. EPA's Roadmap reinforces the differences between these chemistries and that they should not all be grouped together.
"We hope and expect any federal actions will be consistent with sound science," ACC said.
EPA said it would also propose new regulations for the organic chemicals, metal finishing and electroplating industries, and it would monitor the expected phaseout, by 2024, of PFAS in the pulp, paper and paperboard industires and in operations at airports.
As well, it said it would do detailed studies of whether tougher rules are needed for landfills and for factories making electrical components and textiles.
Environmental groups praised the EPA action, with the Environmental Working Group saying the new federal plan would accelerate setting national drinking water standards for two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, by 2023, as well as speed efforts to restrict industrial releases of PFAS into the air and water.
"No one should have to worry about toxic forever chemicals in their tap water," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the group. "We're grateful that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden's pledge to address PFOA and PFOS in our tap water and will begin to turn off the tap of industrial PFAS pollution."
Additionally, environmental groups said they welcomed the EPA's plan to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under Superfund laws.
They said the roadmap would hasten cleanup at military bases and in communities where the compounds have been used in firefighting foams, as waterproof coating on food packaging and carpets and on nonstick pans, among other applications.
Earthjustice said there are more than 5,000 chemicals in the class of PFAS substances, and it said it welcomed EPA plans for manufacturers to do more reporting of discharges of 175 PFAS materials under Toxic Release Inventory rules and to include some PFAS chemicals in Superfund.
"This is long overdue. But EPA must move faster to set deadlines and expand regulations to stop the approval of new PFAS," said Christine Santillana, legislative counsel. "It must also address incineration and stop industrial discharges. No one should be facing cancer because of the water they drink, the air they breathe or the products they buy."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper joined Regan at a press conference in Raleigh to release the road map. In the EPA statement, Cooper singled out enforceable drinking water standards and EPA actions to give local governments more tools as priorities.