The Environmental Protection Agency proposed two of the most harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) be classified as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in an Aug. 26 announcement. U.S. Rep Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led the proposal effort as a component of her PFAS Action Act

PFAS chemicals are man-made persistent chemicals that are found in the drinking water of over 2,000 communities according to a statement from Dingell. According to the Michigan Environmental Council more than 1.5 million residents have been drinking water contaminated with PFAS. The chemicals were commonly used as a nonstick and waterproof coating on cookware and can cause adverse health effects such as reproductive issues and weakened immune systems.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental research group which advocates for clean drinking water and corporate accountability. Melanie Benesh, EWG Vice President for Government Affairs, described some of the benefits of the classification during a press conference Thursday.

“This designation is needed to give the EPA better tools to clean up the many contaminated sites in Michigan and across the country,” Benesh said. “There will be new reporting requirements that make it much easier for the EPA to quickly respond to new releases of PFAS. It’s also going to make it easier for the EPA to prioritize sites that are contaminated with PFAS.”

Dingell said she is satisfied with the progress so far but is still urging the Senate and President Biden to pass the PFAS Action Act.

“Our work is far from done,” Dingell wrote in a statement. “Now that the House has passed the PFAS Action Act twice, the Senate must send it to the President’s desk so this progress cannot be reversed in the future.”

Dingell also introduced the Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act and the No PFAS in Cosmetics Act. Neither of these bills have been brought before the House of Representatives for a vote. 

“We’re gonna keep pushing on all of (the bills),” Dingell said. “So all of us here have been trying to educate consumers about where (PFAS is). I think the more the public becomes aware the more the public is going to demand action. This is certainly a first step. And I think that as people study (PFAS), it’ll increase the pressure for Congress to act on all of these pieces of legislation.” 

This designation comes just weeks after concerns rose over a suspected chromium spill in the Huron River. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services later concluded the river was not contaminated.

Environmental attorney Rob Bilott has worked to combat PFAS for over thirty years. Bilott said he is thankful for the progress in legislation but hopes more action will be taken against companies who continue to pollute the environment with PFAS.

The classification is only a proposal for now and is likely not to take effect until at least August 2023.

Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at