The Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule to designate perfluorooctnoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), the two most common per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS), as hazardous materials under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
WHY DOES THIS MATTER:
CERCLA is the federal law that provides a federal “Superfund” to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment.
Through CERCLA, EPA has the power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and ensure their cooperation in the cleanup. CERCLA imposes liability on parties responsible for, in whole or in part, the presence of hazardous substances at a site.
Since PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals,” they don’t easily break down over time and can be transported through rain run-off, which means they have been found in surface water and groundwater aquifers.
PFOA and PFOS have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers for the most part but are still in limited use in products ranging from stain-resistant clothing and furniture to cookware and food packaging.
Farmers and ranchers do not produce PFOA or PFOS; however, these chemicals can be found in the water that has been provided to their livestock and crops. In certain areas of the country, PFAS levels have risen in milk, beef, and row crops.
Another source of PFAS contamination on farms comes from the use of soil amendments (biosolids, paper byproducts), a practice that has long been supported and encouraged by the EPA. Farmers would never intentionally spread PFAS. Food safety is their top priority. But society is learning that PFAS is all around us, including on farms and ranches.
Holding farmers responsible for the presence of PFAS would be devastating!
To date, PFAS has been detected on some farms, along with many other sites, but farmers do not manufacture or knowingly spread PFAS on their farms. Currently, farmers in Maine. Michigan and New Mexico are severely impacted by PFAS detection.
It’s important that farmers are not held responsible for the presence of PFAS chemicals that they did not produce or intentionally use.
Additionally, a Superfund designation could devastate land values and leave farmers with land that they are unable to use. Under CERCLA, clean-up funds are disseminated based on a priority list, and it is likely that farmland would be the last in line to receive such assistance.
WHAT IS HAPPENING:
The proposed rule would require anyone who releases certain levels of PFOA and PFOS into soil or water to report it to federal or tribal authorities. The goal of this rule is to force responsible parties to take remedial actions and pay for the cleanup of a contaminated site. While EPA has stated that the intent of this rule is to hold the producers and users of these chemicals accountable, there is no language in this rulemaking that protects innocent landowners who passively receive these chemicals.
EPA may be unaware of these unintended consequences, so it is important that farmers and ranchers submit comments expressing our very serious concerns.
REQUEST: Write to your lawmaker(s) to let them know that farmers and ranchers need to be protected from harmful EPA actions, exempted from liability, and receive financial relief if PFAS is found on a farm or ranch.
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