EPA releases new guidance for states to stop toxic PFAS pollution
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—New guidance to states issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency is critical for people’s health nationwide because it makes clear that state agencies should enforce existing law to stop toxic PFAS pollution from further contaminating drinking water sources for many families and communities across America. Stopping pollution from all sources is critical because PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are toxic regardless of source, but agencies have done little enforcement of Clean Water Act protections to prevent exposure.
“This EPA guidance is a pivotal moment in the fight against toxic PFAS pollution for communities nationwide, and makes clear that states must act now using existing law to protect people and their drinking water,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney and leader of the Clean Water Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center who leads litigation to stop PFAS pollution. “Our work in North Carolina against Chemours is proof that PFAS polluters can be held accountable under current law. Families and communities nearby and downstream should not continue to be exposed to toxic PFAS.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center and Cape Fear River Watch held Chemours accountable under existing law for its PFAS pollution in North Carolina as EPA’s new guidance directs states to do with other polluters. After filing lawsuits under existing law, SELC negotiated a consent order with the state and Chemours requiring the company to stop its PFAS pollution from its Fayetteville Works Facility; provide clean drinking water to North Carolinians with contaminated drinking water wells; and ensure the Cape Fear River is safe for downstream communities. The river is the drinking water source for about 350,000 people in the city of Wilmington and New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties downstream. EPA’s guidance recognizes the most recent permit issued to Chemours because of the consent order as a model for how the permitting program can prevent PFAS pollution.
Stopping PFAS pollution at its source will prevent more people suffering more harmful exposure and make polluters bear the burden and cost of the pollution, not communities nearby and downstream.
EPA responded to calls from thousands of people across the South, dozens of members of Congress, and more than 70 environmental organizations to protect drinking water from toxic PFAS pollution in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System guidance to states.
Earlier this year, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Chris Pappas (D-NH) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) led letters to EPA, urging the agency to use its full authority under the Clean Water Act to address PFAS.
PFAS are a class of thousands of synthetic chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and associated with serious health impacts. These contaminants are known as forever chemicals—they do not dissipate, dissolve, or degrade but stay in water, soil, and our bodies. Growing research links PFAS exposure to harming people’s health, including liver cancer, testicular cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and other health harms. All the PFAS that have been studied are known to be toxic.
The NPDES permit program addresses water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to waters of the United States. Created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit program is authorized to state governments by EPA.