Will Hazmat Teams be Affected by EPA ‘Forever Chemical’ Rule Changes?

In late August, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a preliminary document, which indicated the agency wants to classify “forever chemicals” as hazardous substances.

These perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are part of EPA’s overall effort to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known as PFAS. EPA says PFOAs and PFOSs are two of the most widely used and studied chemicals in the PFAS group. PFOA and PFOS have been replaced in the United States with other PFAS in recent years.

Also Read: Researcher Responds to Claims about PFAS in Firefighter PPE

PFAS are best known in the fire service because of their use in firefighting foams and as a fire resistive chemical in clothing and household goods. They’ve gotten a great deal of attention lately due to their use in firefighting turnout gear. They are also widely used by industry and first came on the scene in the 1940s.

The latest move by EPA brings the agency closer to lumping these chemicals under the same hazardous materials rules that apply to those at Superfund sites. Writing for the National Law Review, Matthew Leopold laid out what those changes will mean.

“If finalized, these hazardous substances designations will have significant and immediate impacts on many industries, from creating new reporting obligations to increased compliance, enforcement, and litigation risks related to site cleanup,” Leopold writes.

Also Read: Grad Student Improves how to Communicate Forever Chemical Identification

The industries impacted would include wastewater treatment and waste management facilities, as well as PFOA and PFOS manufacturers, those who make products with these chemicals and those who import products made with these chemicals. If adopted, the new designation would also allow EPA to shift the cost of any clean up to responsible private entities.

EPA identifies these immediate, direct effects of the rulemaking.

  • New reporting requirements to the National Response Center and other authorities within 24 hours of known releases of at least one pound of PFOA or PFOS by a vessel or facility.
  • Entities selling or transferring federally owned property must provide notice about on-site PFOA/PFOS storage, release or disposal and warrant that remedial action has been or will be taken on any hazardous substances on the property, either before or after the transaction.
  • A requirement that the US Department of Transportation list PFOA and PFOS as hazardous materials under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.

Aside from PFOA and PFOS, Leopold writes that EPA is planning similar actions to designate other PFSAs as hazardous materials.

For hazmat teams, this reclassification as a hazardous material under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act could mean there’s another path to recover costs when spills and leaks occur. And, it may mean more callouts for such leaks and spills.

This will also put the onus on hazmat teams to have best-practice SOGs and SOPs in place to handle those calls. And, of course, that means training on those best practices will need to be done and documented.

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