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In a landmark action, US EPA recently proposed to designate two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund.” If finalized, this rule would require entities to report releases of those PFAS substances and would authorize US EPA to order cleanups by potentially responsible parties. Given the potential for widespread liability for such parties if the rule is finalized, it is likely to trigger significant debate from supporters and challengers alike.
The proposed rule would designate perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), including their salts and structural isomers, as hazardous substances under CERCLA. Although CERCLA has been enacted since 1980, this is the first time US EPA has proposed adding new substances to the hazardous substances list. To propose designation as a hazardous substance, the Agency must determine that the substance may present substantial danger to public health or welfare or the environment when released. In the proposed rule, US EPA noted the widespread detection of PFOA and PFOS in the environment and cited the health and safety assessments for the substances that have been undertaken by numerous federal, state, and international governmental entities. Based on the adverse health effects identified in these studies, US EPA found a hazardous substance designation for PFOA and PFOS appropriate. Notably, the Agency interpreted CERCLA to preclude it from taking cost into account in making this designation.
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