PEER and CEH Request Court Injunction Against EPA

On February 15, 2024, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed a lawsuit against EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stating that EPA failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The two nonprofit environmental groups said in their claim that they had filed a FOIA request on January 5, 2023, for numerous documents regarding Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), specifically long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylate (LCPFAC) substances, created during the fluorination of plastic containers by Inhance Technologies LLC. PEER and CEH claim EPA failed to comply with the FOIA request and are now requesting an injunction for the courts to order EPA to disclose all the documents.

In their complaint, the two groups asserted that a document-by-document review by EPA is inefficient and unnecessary and requested that EPA instead adopt a class determination to expedite disclosure. PEER and CEH acknowledge they have received four interim releases but have yet to receive the full release and “unredacted documents have been produced in accordance with the disclosure requirements of section 14 of TSCA”.

The complaint details the timeline of EPA’s response to the FOIA request.  PEER and CEH note that EPA used an “Unusual Circumstances” exception to the standard time allowed for responding to a FOIA with a new estimated competition date of August 3, 2023. A Continuing Unusual Circumstance letter from EPA pushed the response date back further to December 1, 2023. This is an issue of contention for PEER and CEH, as they state that the FOIA statute allows for 20 working days to comply with FOIA requests and only an additional 10 working days for unusual circumstances. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6). Therefore, according to PEER and CEH, the original competition date should have been February 2, 2023, and then adjusted to February 16, 2023 after including 10 working days for unusual circumstances.

Federal Court Requests Scientific Information on Diseases Associated with PFAS Exposure

Parties must gather scientific evidence on the human health effects attributable to PFAS exposure in drinking water, the US District Court for the District of South Carolina ordered in the case In Re Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation MDL 2873 last week.  The multi-district litigation focuses on the health hazards posed by aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs), which are used as fire suppressants and allegedly contain PFAS such as PFOA and PFOS.

Plaintiffs allege that AFFF use at military bases, airports, and other locations caused the release of PFAS into local groundwater, which then entered the water supply.  According to Judge Richard Mark Gergel’s order, the litigation now includes over 20,000 cases, the majority of which raise personal injury claims.

The court adopted a bellwether program for these claims, focusing on alleged connections between exposure and four diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, hypothyroidism/thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.  However, Gergel wrote that those diseases only make up a “small minority” of personal injury cases.  To determine which of the other cases have merit, Gergel directed the parties to propose a case management order within 60 days that includes the following:

  • A date by which plaintiffs must identify diseases not addressed in the bellwether program that they allege are the result of exposure to AFFF-contaminated drinking water,
  • A date by which the parties must produce peer-reviewed articles that support or challenge an association between exposure to AFFF-contaminated drinking water and an identified disease,
  • A plan for a science day where the parties can present experts to address those associations and
  • A plan for selecting bellwether cases for those associations.

In a separate order, Gergel stated that the court would select 28 personal injury cases as bellwether cases from a list of proposed bellwether cases submitted jointly by the parties.

EPA Finalizes TRI PFAS Reporting Rule

On October 31, EPA published its final rule, Changes to Reporting Requirements for PFAS and to Supplier Notifications for Chemicals of Special Concern which modifies the requirements for TRI reporting. These new requirements take effect November 30, 2023, and will apply for the reporting year beginning January 1, 2024; first reports with these requirements will be due July 1, 2025. The rule puts forth two significant changes to the current reporting requirements.

The first change to the reporting requirements is that all PFAS presently subject to TRI reporting will be added to the TRI list of Chemicals of Special Concern (“COSC List”). In addition, in the future, any PFAS added to the TRI list of toxic chemicals will automatically be added to the COSC list without the Agency having to go through a separate rulemaking process as was previously required. Furthermore, all PFAS on the COSC list will be held to the same reporting standard as all other chemicals on the COSC list. This means that all PFAS will be excluded from the de minimis exemption, which had excused quantities of PFAS present in mixtures at less than 1 percent (0.1 for PFOA) from contributing to reporting thresholds. In addition, facilities will no longer be able to report these substances on Form A (the less extensive of the reporting forms) and will not be able to report quantities using ranges. Under the requirements previously in place, Form A could be used for PFAS reporting if each of the following criteria has been met:

  • The reportable chemical substance is not a PBT.
  • The reportable chemical substance was not manufactured, processed, or otherwise used in excess of 1,000,000 lbs.
  • If the total reportable amount of the chemical substance released did not exceed 500 lbs.

Under the new requirements, no one will be able to report PFAS manufacture, processing, use, and releases on Form A. However, Form A can still be used to meet the reporting requirements for PFAS during the 2023 reporting year; beginning in 2024, PFAS will need to be reported using the more extensive Form R.

The second change to the TRI reporting requirements eliminates the de minimis exemption under the supplier notification requirements for all COSC, including PFAS. This change also goes into effect for the 2024 reporting year. The de minimis exemption for supplier notification meant that raw material suppliers were not required to notify their customers of the presence of PFAS in mixtures below specific concentrations (1 percent for non-carcinogens and 0.1 percent for carcinogens or, in the present case, 1 percent for PFAS and 0.1 percent for PFOA). Eliminating the de minimis exemption for reporting will add notification requirements on suppliers of products containing COSC and include such information on their SDSs. Consequentially, facilities will have more information about their processing, use, and/or release of PFAS, and downstream manufacturers will likely have more information to report to EPA for TRI.

Environmental Groups Drop Lawsuit Following EPA Finalization of TRI PFAS Reporting Rule

Environmental and health advocate groups, including the National PFAS Contamination Coalition and Union of Concerned Scientists, have dropped their lawsuit against EPA, challenging two of the Agency’s rules related to PFAS reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The 2022 lawsuit alleged that the Agency’s rules Implementing Statutory Addition of Certain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances; Toxic Chemical Release Reporting and Implementing Statutory Addition of Certain Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) to the Toxics Release Inventory Beginning with Reporting Year 2021, weakened PFAS reporting requirements imposed by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by allowing di minimus and alternative threshold exemptions.

The Plaintiffs agree that the issues raised in their 2022 complaint have been sufficiently addressed in EPA’s October 2023 final rule Changes to Reporting Requirements for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and to Supplier Notifications for Chemicals of Special Concern; Community Right-to-Know Toxic Chemical Release Reporting which modified the TRI reporting requirements. The amended rule eliminates the di minimus reporting exemption with the purpose of increasing the amount of data on PFAS chemicals released to the environment required to be submitted to the Agency beginning in 2025. More detailed information on the new TRI PFAS reporting requirements can be found here. In both the proposed and final rule, EPA stressed that the two prior rules, the ones at issue in the litigation, resulted in minimal reporting on PFAS releases, and therefore, eliminating exemptions was necessary to achieve the goals of the NDAA.

EPA Finalizes TSCA Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements for PFAS

EPA has finalized its Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (“PFAS”) rule. The rule offers none of the customary TSCA reporting exemptions, such as the di minimus threshold exemption, article exemption, and research and development exemption. Although industry members voiced significant concerns over the proposed rule, the scope of the rule remains expansive. A summary of the final rule is detailed below.

Who does the final rule apply to?

40 CFR § 705.10 identifies the entities that are covered under the rule. The rule, which Congress mandated through the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, applies to all entities that have manufactured and/or imported a PFAS for commercial purposes, including those present in a mixture and in an article since January 1, 2011. Those who have only processed, distributed in commerce, used, and/or disposed of PFAS are not subject to this rule.

Which PFAS must be reported under the final rule?

EPA has identified PFAS subject to the rule by a structural definition rather than a list of substance identities (40 CFR § 705.5). However, EPA will provide a public list of substances that meet this definition on its CompTox Chemical Dashboard. The definition of PFAS using a structural definition is as follows:

  • R-(CF2)-CF(R’)R’’, where both the CF2 and CF moieties are saturated carbons;
  • R-CF2OCF2-R’, where R and R’ can either be F, O, or saturated carbons; and
  • CF3C(CF3)R’R’’, where R’ and R’’ can either be F or saturated carbons.

This differs from the proposed rule, which defined PFAS as “a substance that includes the following structure: R-(CF2)–C(F)(R′)R″, in which both the CF2 and CF moieties are saturated carbons and none of the R groups (R, R′ or R″) can be hydrogen.”

Reporting threshold

There is no reporting threshold or de minimis level for PFAS reporting. The traditional TSCA reporting exemptions, such as byproducts and impurities, and low volume exemptions, are not being upheld under this rule and require reporting.

Reporting standard

40 CFR § 705.15 states that the reporting standard that applies to this rule is information “known or reasonably ascertainable” by the manufacturer. This means “all information in a person’s possession or control, plus all information that a reasonable person similarly situated might be expected to possess, control, or know” (See 40 CFR 704.3). Under this standard, the manufacturer must evaluate not only their current level of knowledge regarding substances that are manufactured or imported, including those in articles, but also any additional information that a reasonable person, similarly situated, would be expected to know, possess, or control.

To obtain the necessary information for reporting, EPA expects the manufacturer/importer to conduct a reasonable inquiry into their own organization and potentially make inquiries outside the organization. According to the Agency, this may require “phone calls or email inquiries to upstream suppliers or downstream users or employers or other agents of the manufacturer, including persons involved in the research and development, import or production, or marketing of the PFAS.”

If data is unknown or not reasonably ascertainable, the submitter should, if possible, submit reasonable estimates. If manufacturers or importers need additional information for reporting, but suppliers are unwilling to provide that information, they can send a request for information through EPA’s reporting tool.

What information must be reported?

The scope of information required is vast. Data elements are detailed at 40 CFR §705.15 and include:

  • Chemical-specific information for all PFAS manufactured each year since January 1, 2011, including PFAS incorporated in mixtures.
  • Categories of use, including information on the sector, industrial processing, commercial and consumer use, and product categories.
  • Concentrations of each PFAS used in consumer and commercial products.
  • Manufactured amounts.
  • Byproduct identification.
  • Environmental and health effects data – which must be submitted according to OECD Harmonized Templates for Reporting Chemical Test Summaries.
  • Worker exposure data.
  • Disposal data.

Reporting on PFAS in Articles

Articles importers are subject to the reporting rule. The fact that there is no de minimis concentration threshold makes the scope of this mandate expansive. Because the known and reasonably ascertainable standard applies to this rule, importers must go beyond simply reviewing the SDSs for the imported articles. To demonstrate compliance with the rule, importers will need to survey their suppliers about the presence of PFAS in all of the articles they have imported since January 1, 2011. However, the rule does not mandate any product testing for article importers.

The rule does exempt some data elements from reporting for PFAS imported in articles, such as byproduct identification, worker exposure data, and disposal data.

R&D exemptions to the reporting requirements

Manufacturers and importers of R&D PFAS substances are subject to the reporting rule.  The reporting requirements are reduced where volumes are below 10 kilograms annually.

Electronic reporting

All information must be submitted electronically through CDX (see 40 CFR § 705.35). A new tool, the Chemical Information Submission System (“CISS”), will be added to the CDX module “Submission for Chemical Safety and Pesticide Program” (“CSPP”). Reporting will be submitted through the CISS, which the Agency is currently developing, and will be live prior to the opening of the reporting period.

CBI claims

PFAS manufacturers reporting under this rule may claim CBI consistent with TSCA section 14, but they must make the CBI claim with their submission for this rule. CBI claims submitted for other reporting requirements will not be considered. See 40 CFR § 705.30 for details.

Reporting timeline

Manufacturers and importers will have one year from the effective date of this rule, November 13, 2023, to collect the data necessary for reporting and an additional six months to submit their reports; reports will be due May 13, 2023. Small manufacturers (as defined in 40 CFR 704.3) will have an additional six months to report, making their reporting deadline November 13, 2024.

Recordkeeping requirements

Manufacturers and importers subject to this rule must maintain records of all documents and information reported to EPA for five years, beginning on the last day of the information submission period.

GAO Releases Report on PFAS-Related Recommendations

In September 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a three-page report detailing the recommendations it has previously made to government agencies for the purposes of “detecting, limiting exposure to, and treating PFAS contamination.”

GAO describes the following recommendations it made to EPA, FDA, and Department of Defense (DOD), respectively:

  • In September 2022, GAO recommended that EPA conduct an analysis of the demographic characteristics of communities that have PFAS in their drinking water. EPA agreed and is currently implementing the recommendation.
  • In November 2022, GAO recommended that FDA request legal authority from Congress to compel companies to provide information about certain substances on the market that come into contact with food (such as packaging) that may contain PFAS. FDA is considering the recommendation.
  • In April 2023, GAO recommended that DOD: (1) develop a strategy to help the Department comply with Congress’s directive to stop procuring certain products containing PFAS and (2) update its sustainable product guidance to reflect new PFAS policies. DOD agreed and is currently implementing the recommendation. GAO also recommended that Congress clarify its direction to DOD.

In addition to these recommendations, GAO stated that it is currently monitoring public water systems’ implementation of PFAS treatment methods. GAO also highlighted its July 2022 report on the technologies that could be used to address PFAS-related risks, which recommended that policymakers promote research, expand method development, and support full-scale PFAS treatment.

Case Update: Motion to Dismiss Granted in PFAS Lawsuit Against L’Oreal

In March 2022, a class action lawsuit was filed against L’Oreal U.S.A., Inc. for alleged violations of state consumer protection laws related to the failure to disclose PFAS in their waterproof mascara products. The complaint alleged that L’Oreal violated numerous consumer protection laws, including New York General Business Laws 349 and 350, against fraudulent and misleading advertising by failing to disclose that its waterproof mascara products contain PFAS. (Verdant Law published a detailed blog post on the litigation, which can be found here.)

In a recent ruling on September 30, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted L’Oreal’s motion to dismiss the case. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate standing, as they didn’t sufficiently prove that the specific mascaras they purchased contained PFAS.

The plaintiffs based their claims on a 2021 University of Notre Dame study that found high fluorine levels in various cosmetic products, including waterproof mascaras, commonly advertised as long-lasting or wear-resistant. Plaintiffs did not allege or provide any evidence that the Notre Dame study had included a review of any L’Oreal products.

The plaintiffs also conducted their own study, alleging that the L’Oreal mascaras tested had PFAS levels above the EPA’s lifetime Health Advisory Level (the health advisory level is the amount of PFAS that is most certain not to cause harmful human effects if consumed over a lifetime). Nonetheless, the court found these allegations lacking in specific details, such has how many samples were tested and if all samples tested were positive for PFAS. Nor, according to the court, did the study link the findings to the actual products purchased by the plaintiffs. The court dismissed the case without prejudice and with leave to amend.

California Governor Vetoes Three Bills Restricting PFAS in Consumer Products

On October 8, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he had vetoed three bills passed by California’s state legislature designed to restrict PFAS in certain consumer products. The three bills vetoed by Newsom are as follows:

  • AB 727, which would have banned the manufacture and sale of cleaning products containing intentionally added PFAS or PFAS at or above a certain concentration beginning in 2026. The concentration threshold would have decreased over time to 10 ppm in 2028.  The bill also would have banned the manufacture and sale of floor sealers and floor finishers containing intentionally added PFAS or PFAS at or above 10 ppm beginning in 2028.
  • AB 246, which would have banned the manufacture and sale of menstrual products containing intentionally added PFAS or PFAS at or above 10 ppm beginning in 2025.
  • AB 1423, which would have banned the manufacture, sale, or purchase of artificial turf containing intentionally added PFAS or PFAS at or above 20 ppm beginning in 2026.

In his veto messages for each of the three bills, Newsom provided an identical rationale for his decision.  Newsom wrote that he “strongly support[s] the author’s intent and [has] signed similar legislation in the past” but is concerned that the bill does not identify a regulatory agency to determine or enforce compliance with the proposed statute. According to Newsom, similar legislation that has been enacted without regulatory oversight has been challenging to implement due to inconsistent interpretations and confusion among manufacturers on how to comply. Newsom concluded each message by stating that he is directing the Department of Toxic Substances Control to work with the bill’s author and the legislature to consider other approaches to PFAS regulation.

CPSC Publishes Request for Information Regarding PFAS in Consumer Products

On September 20, 2023, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a request for information (RFI) in the Federal Register for information on PFAS in consumer products. The RFI requests information from all stakeholders, including “consumers, manufacturers and importers, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and researchers.”

The requested information falls into three categories:

  1. Use or potential use of PFAS in consumer products, including information about the definition of PFAS, identification of specific PFAS potentially used or present in consumer products, and information about which PFAS or consumer products CPSC should prioritize in future assessments, among other information;
  2. Potential human exposures to PFAS associated with consumer products use, including information about the potential for exposure and risk from the presence of PFAS in consumer products, among other information; and
  3. Potential adverse human health effects informed by toxicological data, including reports that could inform whether individual PFAS or categories of PFAS have the potential for adverse human health effects, and information on additional data sources that CPSC should consider.

The Federal Register notice also announced the availability of a contract report that CPSC commissioned to characterize the use of PFAS in consumer products, identify PFAS regulations and restrictions, and summarize recent hazard, exposure, and risk assessments on PFAS. The contract report ultimately identified 863 PFAS with reported use or detection in consumer products. The RFI instructs reporting entities to consider information already available to CPSC in the contract report when reporting information.

CPSC does not explicitly state what it plans to do with the collected data in the RFI but states that the contract report “identif[ies] possible next steps.” The next steps identified by the contract report include research (such as developing a consensus on the definition of PFAS), new regulations, and consumer awareness.

The RFI comes after Minnesota, Maine, and other states passed regulations limiting the use of PFAS in consumer products. CPSC will accept the requested information through November 20, 2023.

PFAS Class Action Brought Against Sports Drink Company

A consumer class action lawsuit has been filed against Biosteel Sports Nutrition, Inc. in the Eastern District of New York, alleging that the company’s BioSteel Blue Raspberry flavored sports drink contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”). Defendant’s products are marketed as healthy sports drinks, using language such as “clean, quality ingredients,” “designed with sustainability in mind,” “no artificial flavors/colors,” and “good for you and the environment.” The product packaging additionally claims that the product is “highly regarded for its premium ingredients and zero sugar formula.”

Plaintiffs claim that based on this language, they believed the product to be a healthy sports drink, but the presence of PFAS directly contradicts Biosteel Sports Nutrition’s marketing claims. The suit alleges violations of the New York General Business Law § 349, et seq., which prohibits deceptive acts and practices in business, violations of New York General Business Law § 350, et seq. prohibiting false advertising, breach of express warranty, fraud, constructive fraud, and unjust enrichment.

On August 4, 2023, the company filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Plaintiff’s testing of its product was insufficient to demonstrate that PFAS substances are present in its products. The motion claims the testing allegations are “devoid of any details regarding the methodology or sample used.” Additionally, according to Biosteel Sports Nutrition, this information was not within the complaint or the amended complaint.