The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on December 28, 2021, it is granting a petition from six North Carolina public health and environmental justice organizations filed under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to compel companies to conduct testing of certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The previous Administration denied the petition on January 22, 2021. 86 Fed. Reg. 6602. The petition sought issuance of a rule or order under TSCA Section 4 compelling The Chemours Company to fund and carry out this testing under the direction of a panel of independent scientists. The petitioners requested that EPA reconsider its denial in March 2021, which EPA agreed to do in September 2021, in light of the change in Administration and attendant change in policy priorities concerning PFAS. As reported in our October 19, 2021, memorandum, EPA published a National PFAS Testing Strategy (Testing Strategy) that identifies priority substances for the first of several described phases of an iterative testing approach based on grouping of chemicals by chemistry features and available toxicity data. EPA states that these substances include many of the chemicals identified in the petition, as well as additional PFAS that will inform a wider universe of categories of PFAS where key data are lacking. For example, according to EPA, the first phase of testing on 24 PFAS is expected to provide data that can be extrapolated to 2,950 PFAS that belong to the same categories as the 24 individual substances.
EPA states that it has granted the petition and will use its TSCA Section 4 order authority to require PFAS manufacturers to conduct and fund the following studies that will provide toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS:
- Near-Term Testing Covers 30 of 54 Petition Chemicals -- Under the Testing Strategy, EPA’s first test orders for 24 categories of PFAS about which the least is known will provide human health hazard data that cover 30 of the 54 petition chemicals;
- Subsequent Testing May Cover Nine of 54 Petition Chemicals -- An additional nine PFAS identified in the petition belong to one other category included in the Testing Strategy. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing;
- Remaining 15 of 54 Petition Chemicals -- According to EPA, 15 chemicals identified in the petition do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the Testing Strategy. EPA has determined that there are robust data on some of them available to it. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing;
- Mixtures Studies -- EPA will address PFAS mixtures by using the toxicity of the individual substances to predict the toxicity of the mixture, an approach which is consistent with the current state-of-science on PFAS. EPA is proceeding with development and peer review of these methods as specifically applied to PFAS;
- Human Studies -- EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to advance and expand on these efforts further. These include studies of health outcomes for people in communities impacted by industrial PFAS releases, as well studies that explore the connection between chronic health outcomes and PFAS exposures in North Carolina; and
- Analytical Standards -- EPA does not believe it is appropriate to require the development or submission of analytical standards with the initial test orders that will be issued under the Testing Strategy and lacks the ability to order the submission of all analytical standards in the manner requested. Nonetheless, EPA has requested comment on whether to require the submission of existing analytical methods for PFAS under a separate rulemaking that the Agency expects to issue in final next year.
EPA’s reversal is hardly surprising. The Biden Administration’s commitment to obtaining information on PFAS is clear and has been reinforced in many contexts. In her remarks before the Committee on Energy and Commerce on October 27, 2021, for example, Assistant Administrator Freedhoff stated that EPA is “scouring all sources of information to identify important gaps in existing data and to select representative chemicals within identified categories or additional testing.” Reconsidering the prior Administration’s denial of the Section 21 petition seems like a no-brainer.