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Will the Biden administration clean up PFAS?

PFAS foam on the Huron River.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A screen shot of the Biden campaign's platform.

The Biden campaign platform promises to designate some chemicals in the PFAS family as hazardous substances. That’s something the Trump administration also promised. The EPA completed recommendations more than a year ago and nothing has happened. One report suggests the White House might be holding up those recommendations.

Environmental groups are hoping President-elect Joe Biden’s administration completes the work.

In an online conference, which included Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and PFAS experts, the group was hopeful the Biden campaign promise would quickly become a Biden administration priority. Dingell introduced a package of bills in the U.S. House to tackle PFAS pollution. It’s been held up in the Senate.

Melanie Benesh is with the Environmental Working Group. She says if chemicals in the PFAS family are designated as hazardous, the EPA can go to work to crack down on the sources of PFAS contamination.

“It really gives the EPA and communities more tools to hold those polluters accountable. So, it's really one of the most significant things that a new administration could do,” Benesh notes.

She says that hazardous substance designation means the EPA can prioritize cleanup and use the Superfund designation on contaminated sites.

“There are other really significant consequences that come with that designation. You give the EPA a lot more tools to recover money if they are paying the upfront cost of those cleanups. It gives the EPA a lot more power after they identify who's responsible for making this mess,” Benesh says.

The EPA’s recommended limits on certain kinds of PFAS in drinking water still are not as strict as the standards Michigan approved this past summer. The EPA is recommending 70 ppt (parts per trillion) maximum as a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS. Earlier this year, Michigan set standards for seven of the chemicals, including PFOA at 8 ppt and PFOS at 16 ppt.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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