The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced two proposed rules on Thursday that are intended to protect people and the environment from PFAS chemicals.
These proposals include modifying the definition of hazardous waste to include PFAS, which is something that the New Mexico Environment Department has pushed for in the past.
The EPA’s announcement comes as a direct response to a petition that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham submitted in 2021.
In the petition, the governor wrote that without regulatory actions to address PFAS chemicals, people in the United States will remain at risk from the toxic characteristics associated with these substances that have been dubbed “forever chemicals.”
Some of those potential health impacts that she highlighted in her petition include cancer, diabetes, liver damage, high cholesterol, obesity, thyroid disease, asthma, immune system dysfunction, reduced fertility, low birth weight, and effects on children’s cognitive and neurobehavioral development.
“States like New Mexico are on the front lines of protecting communities from forever chemicals, and stronger federal regulations are essential in addressing such contamination,” she said in a press release. “EPA’s proposed rules are a direct result of New Mexico’s leadership in holding polluters accountable by treating PFAS like the toxic waste they are.”
The EPA is proposing clarifying the definition of hazardous waste in terms of cleanups of contamination from permitted facilities and amending the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to add nine PFAS compounds as hazardous constituents. The RCRA gave the EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the moment it is created until it is disposed of.
“Here’s what today means: New Mexico just clarified the national regulatory landscape for forever chemicals, one of the most important environmental issues of our time,” NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a press release, referring to the actions the state took in petitioning the EPA to classify PFAS as hazardous waste. “Communities will benefit from these rules which require polluters to clean-up and dispose of toxic PFAS.”
In New Mexico, PFAS gained attention when firefighting foam used in training exercises at Air Force bases contaminated groundwater.
Dairy farmer Art Schaap was among the people impacted by this contamination. The Clovis resident was forced to euthanize his entire herd of 3,665 cows due to the PFAS in the water the cattle consumed.
But the U.S. Department of Defense has clashed with New Mexico about cleanup, including challenging the state’s legal authority to compel PFAS cleanup under the RCRA.
Schaap said in a press release that he has been “forced to fight the federal government for more than five years since it destroyed our family’s dairy.”
He said the governor’s advocacy, including the petition to list PFAS as hazardous, has resulted in “common sense protections for Americans in every corner of the nation.”
Every Thursday, get the latest environment news from New Mexico in your email. Sign up here!