The Current Status of US and UK Regulation of PFAS.

(Excerpted from a Harvard School of Public Health article by Dr. Phillipe Grandjean.)


Q: Are governments in Europe and the U.S. taking any action to regulate PFASs?

A: The Council of EU Ministers recently concluded that the European Commission should generate a joint EU strategy on PFASs, treating all the many individual compounds as a group and recommending that they be approved only for essential uses. This means that two commonly used PFASs, such as PFOA and PFOS [perfluorooctane sulfonic acid], cannot be swapped out for other PFASs, except for uses considered “essential.” This is being done because the entire class of chemicals is suspected of having similar properties in regard to environmental dissemination and human health.

Individual EU agencies are currently working on more specific issues, such as lowering tolerable limits in drinking water and phasing out the use of PFASs in food wrappings.

In the U.S., older PFASs are being phased out but they are being substituted with similar PFASs that have not yet been tested in any detail and are therefore not regulated.

There are some legislative efforts underway in Congress to address the use of PFASs, and these are of course highly beneficial and appropriate. For example, one proposal would require a number of actions, including the stipulation that the EPA set nationwide drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS. But the proposal would give the EPA two more years to address what are termed “unreasonable risks” from these chemicals, which is generous, as EPA has been aware of the growing problems for a very long time. It’s also not clear if President Trump will approve these congressional proposals. He recently threatened to veto a bill that would phase out the military’s use of firefighting foams that contain PFASs and that has led to the contamination of vast groundwater reservoirs.

States continue to be impatient and have developed their own approaches to control what some call the PFAS “crisis.” Most recently, New Hampshire has announced new water limits for the four major PFASs, with limits for two of those, PFOS and PFOA, about five-fold lower than the EPA guidelines. At least six other states have also set limits below EPA guidelines.