Now’s the Time—How EPA can use TSCA to turn off the PFAS tap

Faucet with the word PFAS flowing out of it

In the face of mounting evidence about the dangers posed by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), one thing is clear: EPA needs to take urgent action to turn off the tap of these “forever chemicals” that have long-term consequences for our health and the environment.

As we discussed in a previous blog, it is imperative that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) use the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to regulate PFAS chemicals comprehensively—both those newly entering the market and those that have been in circulation for decades.

EPA Should Re-evaluate Its Past Approvals of PFAS

A cornerstone of effective regulation is the re-evaluation of earlier decisions in light of new data. EPA approved many PFAS chemicals 10–20 years ago, before there was a full picture of the pervasiveness and degree of PFAS contamination and its long-term impact. These previously approved PFAS continue to be produced and used—adding to the already substantial PFAS contamination of our environment.

In addition, the 2016 amendments to TSCA, known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, significantly expanded both EPA’s authority and its obligation to regulate harmful chemicals, emphasizing potential risks to highly exposed and other vulnerable populations. Using today’s science, EPA should use its authority to re-evaluate the hundreds of previously approved PFAS, including those the agency exempted from full TSCA review.

For both past approvals and for new PFAS entering the market, EPA should take the following steps to up its game:

Use the Best Available Science
The foundation for any regulatory action must be solid science. EPA’s TSCA program should rely on the scientific expertise on PFAS across the agency. EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) has been evaluating PFAS, and the agency has proposed drinking water standards based on robust scientific findings. It is vital that EPA use this best available science when applying TSCA regulations to PFAS. Anything less could undermine the effectiveness of regulatory action, and the protection of human health and the environment.

Assess Cumulative Risks
TSCA provides the framework for a more inclusive understanding of chemical risks, yet EPA’s TSCA program considers PFAS chemicals in isolation. This is an outmoded strategy for protecting human health and the environment. EPA must move toward a cumulative risk assessment model, accounting for the effects of exposure to multiple PFAS chemicals, especially to vulnerable populations. Under the 2016 amendments to TSCA, the EPA has the mandate and authority to do so.

No Release is Negligible
EPA has argued that some PFAS should be of little concern if they have “negligible” releases. The argument that small releases of PFAS are inconsequential falls apart when you consider that they are environmentally mobile, highly persistent and bioaccumulative. Every release contributes to long-term, cumulative exposure. EPA should not discount the impacts of these PFAS by characterizing them as negligible. EPA should exercise its TSCA authority to ensure that all PFAS releases are treated as significant and subject to protective regulatory oversight.

Facilitate Safer Alternatives
The continued presence of harmful PFAS chemicals on the market not only risks public health but also stifles innovation. By using TSCA to restrict or ban these substances, EPA would incentivize the rapid development and adoption of safer alternatives—a step that is long overdue.

In sum, EPA has the regulatory tools it needs to turn off the PFAS tap and protect human health and the environment. By using its full authority under TSCA, EPA can ensure a future where chemicals do not compromise our health and safety. The time for decisive action is now.

This entry was posted in Chemical exposure, Chemical regulation, Cumulative impact, Cumulative risk assessment, Drinking water, Emerging science, Health policy, PFAS, Public health, Regulation, Risk assessment, Risk evaluation, TSCA, TSCA reform, Vulnerable populations, Worker safety and tagged , , . Authors: . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Barbara Tustian
    Posted September 19, 2023 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    EPA needs to do a much better job of regulating and prohibiting dangerous substances including PFAS which are presently in so many products we all use on a daily basis. EPA owes it to the public to protect our health by more strictly regulating the use of these dangerous chemicals.

  2. Margaret Handley
    Posted September 20, 2023 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Per- and poly- alkyl substances are degrading our health system. Stop their use, or find an alternative.