Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of thousands of chemicals known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and can easily contaminate soil and drinking water. (Related: Forever no more? Scientists discover new, low-cost way to break down certain types of "forever chemicals.")
Many American manufacturers use PFAS in their products, including non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. Many companies have also voluntarily phased out their use. But because PFAS have been used in products since the 1940s and do not break down, they still contaminate the earth.
These chemicals can accumulate and persist in the human body, and evidence from both human and animal studies indicates that massive and long-term exposure to forever chemicals can cause a wide range of health problems, including cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive, cardiovascular, liver and immunological complications.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that the agency will classify two PFAS – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – as hazardous substances.
"Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals," he said. "The action announced today will improve transparency and advance EPA's aggressive efforts to confront this pollution."
Designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances will not ban the chemicals. But, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act or the Superfund law, the agency will require releases of PFOA and PFOS into the soil and water to be reported to federal, state or tribal officials if they meet or exceed certain levels.
Under the Superfund law, the EPA could order cleanups of contaminated sites and force parties responsible for the contamination to either perform the cleanups themselves or pay the government to do the work. If no responsible party can be identified, Superfund gives EPA money and authority to clean up the contaminated sites.
"EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions," said Regan.
Regan added that the EPA will not use the Superfund law to target individual landowners or farmers "who may have been inadvertently impacted by the contamination." The agency will focus its efforts on holding responsible the companies that still manufacture and release significant amounts of PFOA and PFOS.
Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council called the EPA's announcement an important step to clean up the many contaminated sites around the country, and it also takes a burden off utilities paying through the roof to filter PFAS from drinking water.
"Listing PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under Superfund law should allow EPA to hold polluters responsible for that contamination," said Olson. "Ratepayers and public utilities should not be footing the bill for industry's decades of wonton use of these dangerous chemicals."
Attorney Rob Bilott, who has spent years advocating to stop the use of PFAS, praised the EPA's proposal, calling it a "loud and clear message" that the United States finally acknowledges "the now overwhelming evidence that these man-made poisons present substantial danger to the public health and the environment."
Bilott added that the EPA must now work to ensure that the costs of cleaning up the toxic chemicals are borne by the manufacturers that caused contaminations, "not the innocent victims of this pollution who didn't create the toxins and were never warned any of this was ever happening."
Watch this clip from InfoWars with host Harrison Smith discussing how studies have found that rainwater everywhere on the planet is no longer safe to drink due to the massive presence of "forever chemicals."