Regulatory Update: EPA and New York Actions on PFOA and PFOS

Posted Apr 1, 2019

There has been a growing focus on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) recently. This focus will pose new challenges for the regulated community. This client update provides a brief overview of PFAS, a history of federal efforts to regulate them and a summary of recent regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of New York.

WHAT ARE PFAS?

PFAS is an umbrella term for a group of synthetic molecules characterized by a chain of carbon atoms bonded with fluorine atoms (known as the carbon-fluorine tail) connected to a non-fluorinated functional group head.1 The carbon-fluorine bond has two desirable traits. First, it is repelled by fats, oils and water. Second, it is one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry, making PFAS extremely stable and slow to break down.2

These two traits have proven extremely valuable, and two types of PFAS—perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—found their way into a number of industrial processes and commercial products.3PFOS and PFOA were used to create non-stick cookware and to stain-proof and waterproof carpets, furniture, clothes, leather, paper, paints and food packaging. Both chemicals have also been used to make aqueous film-forming foam, a component in firefighting foams commonly used at military bases and airports.

Due to these two traits, PFAS are relatively mobile and extremely stable in the environment. Exposure to PFAS in the environment may interfere with childhood development, disrupt the immunological and endocrine systems and raise the risk of high cholesterol and certain cancers.4 Though studies on these risks have been inconclusive, there have been a number of recent efforts at the state and federal level to regulate PFAS.5

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