Efforts Continue to Address Toxic PFAS in the Pacific Northwest

In February 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a comprehensive action plan to address toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). According to EPA, these toxic, man-made chemicals include “PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s.” Since their introduction, PFAS have been used extensively in a wide variety of products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and many other applications across various industries. PFAS are strong molecules comprised of linked carbon and fluorine atoms and they break down at such a slow rate that, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “scientists are unable to estimate an environmental half-life for PFAS, which is the amount of time it takes 50% of the chemical to disappear.” Research has shown that PFAS have a deleterious effect on fertility, fetal growth, weight, and immune function and EPA is engaging in a process to reduce human risk related to PFAS exposure.

According to EPA, the PFAS Action Plan:

  • Demonstrates the agency’s critical national leadership by providing both short-term solutions and long-term strategies to address this important issue
  • Provides a multi-media, multi-program, national research, and risk communication plan to address this emerging environmental challenge
  • Responds to the extensive public input the agency has received over the past year during the PFAS National Leadership Summit, multiple community engagements, and through the public docket

In February 2020, EPA released a program update discussing its progress. EPA is beginning to implement the action plan throughout EPA Region 10, comprised of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 Tribal Nations and intends to continue using enforcement actions to help manage PFAS risk, where appropriate. For example, on December 31, 2019, EPA notified Toxic Release Inventory reporters that facilities need to track and collect data on PFAS chemicals during 2020, a new requirement included in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). In February 2020, EPA released a list of 172 PFAS chemicals that are subject to TRI reporting.

The agency is continuing to investigate PFAS releases, including issuing 20 information request letters and conducting 11 onsite inspections since July 2017, including joint inspections with states. Over the past year, EPA provided technical support to multiple states on PFAS contamination and treatment. EPA is currently responding to requests for assistance from more than a dozen state and territorial governments by screening for PFAS at high priority sites and training local health agencies to test for PFAS on their own. EPA is also providing cleanup assistance to more than 30 states and the District of Columbia to address PFAS at contaminated groundwater and soil sites.

According to Oregon’s Department of Environmental of Quality, no state-specific health advisories or limits have been established regarding PFAS and no major source of PFAS has been found in Oregon. However, several states have adopted or proposed health guidelines or Maximum Contaminant Levels (“MCLs”) for PFAS in their state, including California.

Tonkon Torp will continue to track the progress of the PFAS Action Plan as it unfolds and we strongly encourage our clients to adhere to all relevant environmental regulations.

If you have questions regarding PFAS or other environmental topics, please reach out to your Tonkon Torp contact.