Environmentalists: Paper mills likely major source of chemical pollution in waterways

Environmentalists: Paper mills likely major source of chemical pollution in waterways
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A number of U.S. paper mills are expected to discharge hundreds of pounds of a controversial chemical into rivers — a reality that the federal government is aware of and has signed off on, according to internal Federal Drug Administration (FDA) documents.

Chemical companies Daikin America and Chemours alerted the FDA in its environmental assessments from 2009 to 2010 that paper mills using their chemical known as perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) would likely distribute hundreds of pounds of the chemical in wastewater discharge per day.

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PFASs are common consumer chemicals typically used to coat nonstick objects such as frying pans. In this case, the chemicals were being used to grease nonstick pizza boxes and other food packaging products.

In the 900 pages of documents obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) through a Freedom of Information Act request, it shows that FDA approved the notices despite the known environmental risks.

PFASs are currently a hot-button topic as debate rages between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry over acceptable levels of the chemical in drinking water.

Reports broke last week that the EPA is fearing a "public relations nightmare" following expected new recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services that acceptable drinking water levels for PFAS are much lower than the EPA's current standards.

The chemical has been linked to thyroid disease and testicular cancer.

Environmentalists worry that FDA records show that pollution in water from paper mills is unchecked.

An analysis done by the EDF noted nine rivers flowing through 17 states were likely to contain more than the maximum content level of PFAS stipulated in EPA's health advisory. However, the group said it was not made public which plants are using these chemicals and into which waterways the chemical is being discharged.

"The insight provided by the four environmental assessments we obtained suggest that paper mills may present a significant source of PFAS," wrote Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the EDF, in a blog post. "Communities across the country need to know where PFASs are being used and the environmental impact of these uses."

Tuesday the EPA is scheduled to host a summit on PFASs at its headquarters.