Energy & Environment

Advocates call EPA ‘forever chemical’ testing announcement insufficient

The Biden administration will require new testing on some “forever chemicals,” but advocates are disappointed in what they characterized as insufficient requirements.  

In response to a petition from North Carolina environmental groups asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study 54 chemicals further, the agency said it would require companies to conduct tests on seven of the chemicals the groups identified.

It also said that these chemicals are similar to 14 others from the petition and that it will test for four chemicals that are not part of the groups’ request, but that are similar to nine of the chemicals. 

The EPA argued that in doing this, it’s covering 30 of the 54 chemicals from the petition. 

The move is one of the Biden administration’s first concrete indications of the approach it will take to a class of chemicals called PFAS after it announced a plan in October to tackle them.

Certain types of PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to health issues including kidney and testicular cancer.

The Trump administration initially denied the petition.

Lawyer Bob Sussman, who represents the environmental groups, said the requirements are not enough.

“EPA says they’re granting the petition. I think if they denied the petition we would basically be getting the same thing. … 90-plus percent of what we asked for we’re not getting,” said Sussman, who was a high-ranking EPA official during the Obama and Clinton administrations.

The tests outlined in the petition will include animal studies, but Sussman said he’d specifically like to see epidemiological studies on people who live in Eastern North Carolina. 

The environmental advocates also released statements expressing disappointment in the agency’s decision.

“For decades, our communities have suffered silently from PFAS contaminated water. All the while, polluting corporations have continued to profit from our pain,” said La’Meshia Whittington, of the NC Black Alliance.

“Our dedicated team of community advocates, legal counsel, and scientists have provided EPA with the tools to clearly and swiftly act to save our communities. We are deeply disappointed that the Biden EPA chose not to use these tools in its response to our petition,” Whittington added. 

The petition alleged that the 54 substances were manufactured by a company called Chemours at a facility in Fayetteville, N.C.

Asked to respond to the EPA’s latest action in a statement, Chemours spokesperson Cassie Olszewski said that the company supports “national, industry-wide PFAS-related regulatory and testing requirements that are data-driven and based on the best available science.”

“In this regard, the EPA’s National PFAS Testing Strategy and participation of all manufacturers is important to a complete, holistic evaluation of PFAS compounds. As this work progresses, Chemours remains committed to delivering essential and responsible chemistry in every community where we operate,” Olszewski said. 

Meanwhile, the Biden administration argued that its move was a step forward that will protect the public. 

“By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people. This data will also help us identify the sources of pollution so we can hold those accountable for endangering the public,” said a statement from EPA Administrator Michael Regan, who formerly led North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. 

“EPA is fully committed to addressing this longstanding pollution challenge, and today we take another critical step forward to protect the water, air, and land we all depend on,” Regan added. 

PFAS chemicals are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they build up in peoples’ bodies over time instead of breaking down. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found PFAS in the blood of nearly all the people that it tested, indicating “widespread” exposure in the American public

Tags Chemours Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan NC Black Alliance Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS Pollution
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