The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday designated two "forever chemicals" used in cookware, carpets and firefighting foams as hazardous substances, clearing the way for quicker cleanup of the toxic compounds.

Designation as a hazardous substance under the so-called Superfund law doesn't ban the chemicals. But it requires that releases of PFOA and PFOS into soil or water be reported to federal, state or tribal officials if they meet or exceed certain levels. The EPA could then require cleanups to protect public health and recover cleanup costs.

"Communities have suffered far too long from exposure to these forever chemicals,'' EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Friday. "The action announced today will improve transparency and advance EPA's aggressive efforts to confront this pollution."

The chemicals can accumulate and persist in the human body for long periods of time, and evidence from animal and human studies indicates that exposure to PFOA or PFOS may lead to cancer or other health problems.

Maplewood-based 3M Co., which along with several other companies made the chemicals or products that used them, could eventually be on the hook for billions of dollars over PFAS liabilities, analysts say.

3M said Friday that designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances is "unnecessary." "This action will not help promote timely or appropriate remediation of these materials and could in fact delay action," the company said in a statement.

3M said it will continue to work collaboratively to clean up PFAS sites and "continues to support federal regulation of PFAS that is based on the best available science."

Attorney Rob Bilott, an anti-PFAS advocate whose work was highlighted in the 2019 film "Dark Waters,'' said the EPA's proposal "sends a loud and clear message to the entire world that the United States is finally acknowledging and accepting the now overwhelming evidence that these man-made poisons present substantial danger to the public health and the environment."

Erik Olson, a health and food expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the announcement an important step to clean up hundreds of contaminated sites across the country and protect millions of families exposed to the toxic chemicals.

PFOA and PFOS have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers, including 3M, but are still in limited use and remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time.

The compounds are part of a larger cluster of "forever chemicals" known as PFAS that have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s. The term is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, cosmetics and countless other consumer products.

The Superfund law allows the EPA to clean up contaminated sites and forces parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. When no responsible party can be identified, Superfund gives EPA money and authority to clean up contaminated sites.

3M stopped making PFOA and PFOS in 2002, and company officials say the current generation of the chemicals do not pose health risks. However, the company continues to face liabilities for the chemicals in the U.S. and Europe.

The state of Minnesota settled a PFAS lawsuit with 3M in 2018 for $850 million. 3M has also pledged about $600 million for remediation around a plant in Belgium that produces PFAS.

Includes reporting by staff writer Catherine Roberts.