EPA Move Has Big Implications for Michigan’s PFAS “Forever Chemical” Toxic Sites

Federal agency to announce 60-day comment period on proposed new rule


The proposal last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list two “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law could help spur cleanup actions in Michigan.

The two chemicals, known as PFOS and PFOA, were two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and were used in firefighting foams, nonstick kitchenware, and water repellent gear, among other things, before being phased out. The chemicals break down very slowly, if ever, in the environment, are found in the blood of nearly all Americans, and have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and other human health impacts. Promisingly, scientists at Northwestern University recently discovered a new method for breaking down PFAS compounds that could prove to be a breakthrough for cleanups.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) so far has identified 228 PFAS contamination sites. In 2018, EGLE predicted more than 11,300 PFAS sites in Michigan might exist, but had not been investigated yet, including at fire stations, municipal airports, military sites, refineries and bulk petroleum stations, and wastewater treatment plants.

“If the proposed rule takes effect, the hazardous substance designation will create a mechanism for the EPA to hold polluters financially accountable, and it will also allow communities, local governments, and small businesses to sue polluters to recover costs,” said Anthony Spaniola, an activist fighting for cleanup of PFAS contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base near Oscoda. 

“If the proposed rule takes effect, the hazardous substance designation will create a mechanism for the EPA to hold polluters financially accountable, and it will also allow communities, local governments, and small businesses to sue polluters to recover costs,” said Anthony Spaniola, an activist fighting for cleanup of PFAS contamination from the former Wurtsmith Air Force base near Oscoda. 

Spaniola added, “As the proposed rule makes its way through the process, EPA will also be accepting public comment regarding other members of the PFAS chemical class that should also be designated as hazardous substances. In the best of all worlds, this could open the door for regulation of PFAS chemicals as a class—which is what should be done.” 

Michael S. Regan,
EPA Administrator

“This is a significant political and policy statement from the Biden administration,” he said.

“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in announcing the proposed rule. EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.

“Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in announcing the proposed rule. EPA will both help protect communities from PFAS pollution and seek to hold polluters accountable for their actions.

The proposed designation of PFOS and PFOA is not a done deal. Citizens will need to submit supportive comments during the official rulemaking process. EPA will be publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register before a 60-day comment period begins.

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Federal agency to announce 60-day comment period on proposed new rule