EPA closer to unveiling plan for tackling ‘forever chemicals’
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon unveil a plan to address what it sees as “inadequate” regulations on a class of toxic chemicals that disproportionately affects vulnerable groups, according to documents obtained by The Hill.
The agency’s forthcoming effort to crack down on the chemicals called PFAS, which have been linked to health problems such as kidney and testicular cancer, were previewed in a slideshow recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Asked about the slides, an EPA spokesperson said the agency would be releasing its roadmap for PFAS soon and that it would provide a comprehensive strategy for addressing pollution in communities across the U.S.
PFAS, which stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, can be found in a variety of locations and products, including nonstick cookware, food packaging, firefighting foam and drinking water. They are also known as “forever chemicals” because they persist and accumulate in the human body and the environment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure rates can be difficult to assess, but one 2015 study found PFAS to be in the blood of 97 percent of Americans.
In April, EPA Administrator Michael Regan established a council on PFAS that aims to develop a multiyear strategy for addressing the substances.
The slides obtained by The Hill, which are dated July 16 but were obtained this past week, provide a glimpse of the initiative’s overall objectives, though many portions have been redacted.
One slide detailed what the agency sees as “Current Landscapes and Trends” and referred to a “patchwork of regulations” and “current inadequate regulatory framework.”
It also mentioned “addressing disproportionate impacts on vulnerable groups” and “the need for prevention” for PFAS that get into the environment — suggesting that these could be areas of focus for agency action.
It also mentioned cross-agency and intergovernmental coordination, with one slide describing “next steps” for September in which the agency was expected to have “engagement sessions with the federal family.”
The EPA spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the agency has engaged with the Defense Department as part of this effort but did not say whether the initiative will ultimately include cleaning up PFAS from military bases, a major source of the contamination.
Two of the EPA’s planned objectives, according to the slides, include establishing voluntary programs to control PFAS use and identifying federal actions and partnerships.
Additional “next steps” indicate that between September and November, the agency is slated to hold engagement sessions with co-regulators and impacted stakeholders.
The details come as the Biden administration is seeking to address PFAS but with some on Capitol Hill saying the efforts to date don’t go far enough.
The administration recently announced that it will set the first-ever discharge limits for PFAS, focusing on manufacturers of the substances, as well as for chromium electroplating facilities.
However, a group of Democrats wrote to the EPA on Wednesday complaining that the approach “excludes most of the industry categories that are making the PFAS pollution challenge even bigger—despite the well documented risks posed by PFAS exposure in humans and our environment.”
The lawmakers — Democratic Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Jim McGovern (Mass.) and Dan Kildee (Mich.) — also said the administration’s strategy “fails to set deadlines for new standards. We find this extremely disappointing.”
The Democrats want the EPA to take tougher action, specifically by putting forward a strategy to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, setting drinking water and groundwater cleanup standards, addressing ongoing discharges into air and water, and ensuring proper disposal of associated waste.
Any strategy that doesn’t do so, the lawmakers argued, “would also fail to meet the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment.”