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EPA designates two PFAS as hazardous substances through Superfund program

Several people in white lab coats and wearing purple gloves and goggles look down at containers holding samples for testing
Joshua A. Bickel
Associated Press
Eric Kleiner, center, sorts samples for experimentation as part of drinking water and PFAS research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Center For Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Cincinnati.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that two so-called "forever chemicals" will now be part of the federal superfund program.

PFOS and PFOA are some of the most toxic in the family of chemicals. They're used for waterproofing and stain resistance, and they're almost everywhere in the environment.

In a recent press release, the agency said "there is no level of exposure to these contaminants without risk of health impacts."

This step is important because it will require polluters to pay to clean up their contamination.

Hayley Jones is with Slingshot, a nonprofit that helps communities organize to protect themselves against pollution. They said the EPA now effectively has more legal teeth to force polluters to clean up their messes.

"Because they can now sue polluters and they can issue administrative orders that force them to either clean up their sites or to face the penalties for unjustifiably refusing to do so," Jones said.

Jones said they hope this could bring more money and resources to communities like North Bennington, where wells were contaminated with PFOA from a nearby factory.

Patrick Parenteau is a professor at Vermont Law who used to litigate Superfund cases.

"These first two substances are just the beginning," Parenteau said. "So we're at the early states of what could be another major expansion of the Superfund program."

Parenteau said there now could be many new superfund sites across the country.

Environmental justice organizers applauded the ruling and called it overdue.

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Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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