Andrew Wheeler’s PFAS ‘action’ plan is all plan, no action

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glass of water

Tap water for an estimated 110 million Americans is contaminated with fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which are linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity. But the so-called action plan for dealing with this crisis, released last week by Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler , is all plan and no action.

Here are four reasons why.

{mosads}First, Wheeler’s plan does not turn off the tap of PFAS pollution. PFAS is found in firefighting foam, used in everyday products like food, cosmetics and clothing, and dumped in our air and water. But Trump’s plan does nothing to address new PFAS pollution. Instead, it promises merely to “examine” information about PFAS discharges.

Likewise, Wheeler’s plan does not block the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration from approving new PFAS chemicals to add to the more than 600 already in use. In fact, since 2002, the EPA has approved more than 100 new PFAS chemicals. One was recently approved for use at 800 sites around the nation. Separately, the FDA has approved the use of more PFAS chemicals in food packaging, even though PFAS can migrate into food, and has done nothing to restrict the use of PFAS in personal care products like makeup and lotions.

Second, Wheeler’s plan does nothing to tell us where PFAS pollution already is. Even though the plan notes that companies that manufacture chemicals, plastics, fibers, textiles, and pulp and paper may be discharging PFAS into the air and water, the plan does not add PFAS to the government’s Toxic Release Inventory, which requires disclosure of toxic discharges. Instead, Wheeler’s EPA is “considering” it. Nor does the plan accelerate efforts to monitor the extent of current contamination. Under Wheeler’s plan, water quality monitoring for PFAS in drinking water wouldn’t yield any answers until at least 2022.

Third, Wheeler’s PFAS plan does not actually commit to clean up pollution. While Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) secured a commitment from EPA’s Assistant Administrator to take the next step toward a drinking water standard, the plan Wheeler released last week says the EPA must still “determine” whether to force utilities to filter PFAS from our water. Wheeler’s plan is “beginning the necessary steps” to designate PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund law, a designation that could start the cleanup process at contaminated sites. To guide this process, the EPA is “developing” recommendations. But nowhere in Wheeler’s plan is a commitment to immediately set a drinking water standard that designates PFAS as a hazardous waste under Superfund, or provide the resources needed to clean up the mess, such as funding to clean up contaminated military bases.

Fourth, Wheeler’s plan targets just two compounds in the growing PFAS family of toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOAS. Studies of two other PFAS chemicals – HFPO, or GenX, and PFBS – may be completed this year. Studies of five other PFAS chemicals – PFBA, PFHxA, PFHxS, PFNA and PFDA – will just be getting started, even though PFNA levels in women of childbearing age are going up.

If Wheeler were serious about addressing the crisis, he would block approval of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS in firefighting foam, and end the use of PFAS in everyday products. He would require reporting of PFAS discharges – or better yet, end PFAS discharges into our air and water – and require federal agencies to monitor PFAS in our air, water, food and bodies. And he would not wait to make a regulatory determination to set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act or designate PFAS as a “hazardous substance” under the Superfund law.

It’s been 10 years since the EPA last issued a PFAS action plan, and the problem has only gotten worse. As retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter died from leukemia, said: “The time to ‘investigate’ or ‘consider’ whether and how to address PFAS contamination is long past. The time for weasel words is over.”

We know these chemicals are bad for us. We know they are in our water, food and everyday products. We know they are in our bodies, and that our children are being born with PFAS in their blood. But under Wheeler’s plan, there will be more PFAS contamination, not less.

Scott Faber is senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

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