An Update on PFAS

By Rachel Rebello, Boston College

Rachel Rebello graduated from Rutgers University in 2019 with a bachelors in Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing a career in environmental law at Boston College. Rachel’s research on the Raritan River Basin and PFAS (“Forever Chemicals”) launched our NWNL NextGen Blog series. Her ongoing research on the critical and complex story of PFAS foretells a successful career for Rachel in environmental law. Rachel has become our in-house NWNL resource on PFAS and so we are thrilled to have her reactions. We publish this commentary with great appreciation for Rachel’s continued efforts for NWNL and her commitment to our environment. Read Rachel’s earlier posts on PFAS contamination in 4 NWNL watersheds.

This past week brought exciting developments in the decades-long battle against contamination by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The EPA recently released its PFAS Roadmap Strategy, detailing steps the agency plans to take in the next three years to address PFAS. This plan’s multi-pronged approach engages with various state agencies to address the various challenges posed by PFAS – specifically the chemical class’s continued circulation in commerce; the lack of comprehensive data on the class’s presence in various water bodies; the effects of contamination at military sites; and the use of GenX chemicals, a class of compounds with similar properties to PFAS. The PFAS Roadmap Strategy also sets tentative yearly deadlines for rule-making for PFAS regulation related to toxic chemicals reporting; discharge permitting under the Clean Water Act; and designations by CERCLA. (Editor’s Note: CERCLA is The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as “Superfund,” since The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 reauthorized CERCLA to continue cleanup activities around the country. )

Additionally, the administration is also promoting two bills devoting funding to address PFAS contamination in drinking water and to set up monitoring programs: “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal” and the “Build Back Better Agenda.” If passed, both bills would provide much needed support to state agencies’ ongoing efforts to monitor PFAS.

The Biden Administration’s proposals addressing PFAS present a promising step in the right direction. The critical next phase in carrying out the PFAS Roadmap Strategy is ensuring adequate appropriation of funds from Congress, as well as robust public engagement during the public comment period for the various rulemaking actions proposed. While many challenges lie ahead in implementing and funding these actions and proposals, this past week signals a much needed shift in the battle against PFAS.

[For more PFAS info, subscribe to our NWNL Weekly News DROP and see our NWNL Voices of the Rivers transcription of a 2018 talk at Rutgers by Dr. Sandra Goodrow on “PFAS in NJ’s Water.”]

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