PFOA and PFOS designated as hazardous by USEPA

June 3, 2024

USEPA designates PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has officially designated perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), as reported by the Foam Exposure Committee in their June 1, 2024, bulletin.

This new classification brings significant regulatory implications for industries and communities dealing with these chemicals.

PFOA and PFOS, part of the larger group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are known for their persistence in the environment.

They do not break down naturally and tend to spread contamination rather than dilute it.

This has led to widespread contamination of water resources over the past five decades due to the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in firefighting.

Impact of PFAS on health and environment

PFAS chemicals are found in the blood of virtually everyone and can bioaccumulate in the human body, affecting various systems and organs.

Studies have shown that PFAS can penetrate materials such as bedrock, concrete, glass, plastics, and human skin.

According to the bulletin, “Four PFASs were associated with altered DNA methylation levels at specific genes.

“These results may indicate how PFASs are harmful to health and merit further exploration.”

The persistence and bioaccumulative nature of PFAS make them unlike other hazardous chemicals previously managed by HAZMAT teams.

The fire service, in particular, faces the unique challenge of having unknowingly contributed to the contamination of their communities and themselves through the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams.

Regulatory and community response

The designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances means that sites contaminated with these chemicals will now be subject to cleanup under CERCLA.

This could involve significant financial and logistical efforts for affected industries and communities.

The USEPA’s decision reflects growing concern over the environmental and health impacts of PFAS.

Firefighting organizations and environmental groups are expected to play a crucial role in addressing the contamination.

Efforts to replace PFAS-containing foams with safer alternatives are already underway, though the transition is complex and costly.

Long-term implications for fire services

For fire services, the recognition of PFAS hazards underscores the need for increased awareness and training on handling and mitigating these substances.

The Foam Exposure Committee Co-Chair Vicki quint emphasized the importance of continued research and policy development to address the long-term impacts of PFAS contamination: “The fire service has been put into the unique position of contaminating their own communities and themselves without knowing”.

The fire service must adapt to new regulations and best practices to ensure the safety of their personnel and the communities they serve.

This includes implementing safer firefighting techniques and investing in cleanup and remediation efforts for contaminated sites.

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