July 13, 2023

EPA Releases New Framework for Assessing PFAS

On June 29, EPA announced a new framework for reviewing new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and new uses of PFAS. The framework outlines the agency’s approach to ensuring that PFAS are extensively evaluated for their potential to cause harm to human health and the environment before these chemicals enter commerce.

EPA’s press release states that many PFAS “persist and bioaccumulate” in the environment and human bodies. These chemicals “pose potential risks not only to those who directly manufacture, process, distribute, use, and dispose of the chemical [substances] but also to the public,” the agency explains. The Toxic Substances Control Act requires EPA to assess potential risks of all new chemicals and to take action to mitigate any potential risks that are identified before chemicals enter the market. But new PFAS are challenging for EPA to evaluate because there often is not sufficient information for the agency to make risk determinations or effective regulatory decisions. The new framework is intended to help EPA more efficiently review new PFAS and uses by identifying whether the chemicals will persist and bioaccumulate, cause human exposures, or be released into the environment.

EPA expects that certain PFAS uses—such as those where occupational exposures will be controlled, the chemicals will be properly disposed of, and no consumer exposure will occur—will not affect human health or the environment. These uses include the manufacture of semiconductors and other electronic components. Under the new framework, EPA will allow these new PFAS and uses to enter commerce after manufacturers provide data for the substances and uses.

For PFAS uses with low but not negligible potential for exposures and environmental releases, EPA will require more extensive testing and data before deciding whether to permit manufacture. The agency will require additional testing for new PFAS and uses in cases expected to result in consumer exposures or environmental releases. In these situations, EPA will determine whether to allow the PFAS or uses to enter commerce with sufficient mitigation measures in place or to prohibit them. For example, EPA will likely prohibit PFAS in spray-applied stain guards, as this use inherently involves environmental release. The agency says it will also consider whether there is a critical or military need for a new PFAS or use.

According to EPA, the new framework will help ensure new PFAS won’t harm human health or the environment while allowing certain, critically important uses where exposures and releases can be mitigated.

EPA’s webpage for the framework provides more information and a link to download the document as a PDF.

Related: An article published in the March 2022 issue of The Synergist focuses on the challenges in researching and managing exposure to PFAS. Another article published later that year explores how the group of synthetic chemicals complicates product stewards' efforts to plan ahead.