How are PFAS regulated?
The history of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) regulation spans several decades, with increased attention and regulatory actions taken as more information about their potential environmental and health impacts became known. These milestones highlight the progress throughout history to the present day:
1970s-1980s: The production and use of PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), were on the rise. These chemicals were commonly used in a range of consumer products, industrial applications, and firefighting foams.
Late 1990s: Concerns about PFAS contamination emerged as studies linked PFOA and PFOS to adverse health effects in humans and animals. Investigations revealed the presence of PFAS in drinking water supplies near manufacturing facilities and military sites where firefighting foams were used.
2000s: Several lawsuits were filed against companies involved in PFAS manufacturing, leading to the disclosure of internal documents that raised concerns about the health effects of PFAS. Read more about recent cases here.
2006: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program, which aimed to phase out PFOA and related chemicals by 2015. This voluntary program involved major PFAS manufacturers committing to reduce emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals.
2016: The EPA issued a Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, recommending a combined concentration of no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This advisory is not a legally enforceable limit but provides guidance to public water systems and regulatory authorities.
2019: The EPA issued a PFAS Action Plan, outlining strategies to address PFAS contamination. The plan included steps to assess and manage PFAS in the environment, establish drinking water standards, and promote research on PFAS.
2020: The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law, requiring the phasing out of PFAS-containing firefighting foams in military applications and establishing additional regulations for PFAS disposal and cleanup.
2021: The EPA initiated the process to develop regulatory limits for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. They also proposed adding PFAS to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which would require companies to report releases of certain PFAS chemicals.
In addition to actions in the United States, other countries and regions have also implemented or proposed regulations for PFAS. These include restrictions on production and use, monitoring of drinking water, and classification of specific PFAS chemicals as persistent organic pollutants under international agreements.
The regulation of PFAS is an evolving process as scientific understanding grows and new information becomes available. Efforts are underway to assess and regulate other PFAS chemicals beyond PFOA and PFOS, as well as develop remediation strategies for contaminated sites.
Are PFAS chemicals banned anywhere?
Yes, PFAS chemicals have been banned or restricted in various countries and regions due to their environmental persistence and potential health concerns. The focus often extends beyond outright bans to include regulations on specific uses, releases, and disposal practices. The scientific understanding and regulatory landscape around PFAS continue to evolve as more research and risk assessments are conducted.
In the European Union (EU), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and their salts have been banned since 2020 under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. The EU has also restricted the use of other PFAS chemicals, such as perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), in various applications.
There is no comprehensive federal ban on PFAS chemicals in the U.S., but several individual states have taken action. Washington State and Maine have passed laws banning PFAS in certain types of food packaging. In addition, some states have set or proposed drinking water standards for specific PFAS compounds.
In Canada, the federal government added PFOS, PFOA, and related substances to the List of Toxic Substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). This designation allows for regulation and control of these substances, including potential bans or restrictions.
Norway has restricted the production and use of PFOS, PFOA, and related substances since 2003 under the Norwegian Pollution Control Act. These substances are banned in most applications, with some exceptions for critical uses.
Sweden has imposed restrictions on the production and use of PFOS, PFOA, and their precursors under the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s regulations. These regulations limit the manufacturing and importation of these substances.
Australia has banned the manufacture, importation, and use of PFOS, PFOA, and related substances under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Some specific uses are exempted for essential purposes.