Biden Begins with an Eye on PFAS

Biden Begins with an Eye on PFAS
A flurry of action around PFAS signals a new approach to envi­ron­men­tal protection from the Biden admin­is­tra­tion.

One week after his inau­gu­ra­tion, President Biden signed an executive order “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Poli­cy­mak­ing.” Over at EPA, with a new admin­is­tra­tor waiting in the wings, the agency appeared to validate the new approach, when it swiftly rescinded an earlier PFAS toxicity assessment released by the outgoing admin­is­tra­tion. It cited “scientific integrity” as its rationale.


According to the agency, EPA career scientists had reviewed a recently released toxicity assessment for a PFAS compound known as perflu­o­robu­tane­sul­fonic acid (PFBS). The scientists determined that the publicly released findings “were compromised by political inter­fer­ence.“ In a news release, the agency stated that the compromised data “constitutes a violation of the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy,” and it has since removed the assessment from its website. 

The PFBS assessment was a component of EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, touted as “the most compre­hen­sive cross-agency plan ever to address an emerging chemical of concern.” In addition to the now recalled toxicity assessment, EPA had issued a number of related actions, including a directive to advance PFOA/PFOS drinking water regulations, a proposal to collect new PFAS data under UCMR 5, next steps for PFAS in wastewater and improved coor­di­na­tion among federal agencies.

So far, there have been no additional announce­ments from EPA regarding these remaining action items, released one day before President Biden took office. 

PFAS, PFOA, perflu­o­ri­nated compounds, will be a top priority for this admin­is­tra­tion
Michael Regan, Biden's EPA Nominee

Biden Nominates Regan to Lead EPA

Michael Regan, currently serving as North Carolina’s Secretary of Envi­ron­men­tal Quality, received bipartisan support at a February 3 confir­ma­tion hearing in front of the Environment and Public Works Committee. His appointment is not final until confirmed by the full Senate, but experts believe that is forthcoming.

“One area that I hope to prioritize is [PFAS],” said Senate majority leader Kirsten Gillibrand at Regan’s hearing. “In my view, the previous admin­is­tra­tion did not act with the sense of urgency that we need on this issue,” she added.

Regan, who has a degree in envi­ron­men­tal science from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University and a 10-year stint at EPA, has come out in favor of setting limits on PFAS concen­tra­tions in drinking water.

“PFAS, PFOA, perflu­o­ri­nated compounds, will be a top priority for this admin­is­tra­tion,” said Regan. “We will pursue discharge limits. We will pursue water quality values…I think we need to take a very strong look at the emissions that are coming from the combustion and incin­er­a­tion of products that yield PFAS into our atmosphere.”

If confirmed, Regan will take the reins at an historic time for the EPA. PFAS is a global concern and has been named as a top envi­ron­men­tal priority, second only to climate change. Some researchers have even tried to measure potential connections between PFAS and COVID-19 symptoms and vaccines. As part of his strategy, Regan plans to appoint new justice officials responsible for air, water and land pollution. He also plans to appoint a chemical safety official under each of those umbrellas.

CDM Smith will continue monitoring Regan’s appointment process and provide further analysis on the contin­u­a­tion of the agency’s PFAS Action Plan. 

EPA Reissues Regulatory Determinations

On February 22, EPA reissued its commitment to regulate two PFAS in drinking water. Leaving behind six other compounds (1,1-dichloroethane, acetochlor, methyl bromide, metolachlor, nitroben­zene and RDX) on the Fourth Contaminant Candidate List, the agency made final regulatory deter­mi­na­tions to implement the national primary drinking water regulation development process for PFOA and PFOS.  

EPA has also reissued the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to collect new data on 29 additional PFAS in drinking water. The agency's official news release stated that the agency has reissued both these actions so that it can use "a strong foundation of science while working to harmonize multiple authorities to address the impacts of PFAS on public health and the environment."

Charles Schaefer Charles Schaefer
The future of PFAS is about options: optimizing upstream treatment technology, reducing downstream waste generation, and destroying PFAS.
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