Because of their nonstick and water-repellent properties, the two man-made substances, commonly known as PFOA and PFOS, were used in consumer products under brand names such as Teflon and Scotchgard beginning in the 1950s. They are a type of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, that are known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in people and the environment.
Manufacturers in the United States have stopped producing the two chemicals in favor of others with comparable properties. However, PFOA and PFOS have been detected in the soil and groundwater of hundreds of communities across the country, including those located near military bases, chemical plants, paper mills, and landfills. The chemicals were discovered in milk and other food products, contaminating drinking water.
"Communities have suffered far too long as a result of their exposure to these forever chemicals," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
If the rule is finalized, it will result in increased reporting standards for releases of the two chemicals into the environment, as well as provide the EPA with more tools under federal Superfund law to require cleanup, according to Mr. Regan. It would also make recouping costs from polluters easier for the agency.
"This will help kick-start the cleanup process in hundreds of communities devastated by PFAS contamination and will give the EPA new tools to hold companies accountable," said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental organization.
According to the EPA, research indicates that PFOA and PFOS may pose a significant threat to the environment and that exposure to them may result in cancer, reproductive, developmental, cardiovascular, liver, and immunological effects.
The EPA sharply reduced safe consumption levels for both PFOA and PFOS in June, setting health advisory levels for amounts that are barely detectable today.
The levels, while not enforceable, show that the agency considers the chemicals to be far more dangerous than it previously did. Chemours Co. has since sued the EPA in federal appeals court, claiming that the agency's decision to set a health advisory level for a third PFAS chemical used by the company, known as GenX, was not based on sound science.
The EPA is expected to propose drinking-water standards for PFOA and PFOS this fall, establishing the first national limits on the chemicals in public drinking-water systems. The agency has also directed that more than two dozen PFAS chemicals be tested in drinking water systems across the country in order to determine how prevalent the chemicals are in drinking water.