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UPDATE: Thousands of Industrial Facilities Likely Discharging Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Into Air and Water

Thursday, April 9, 2020

At least 2,500 industrial facilities across the nation could be discharging the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS into the air and water, according to an updated EWG analysis of government data. 

EWG reviewed two online databases from the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as data from a survey by the state of New York, and identified 2,501 unique industrial sites that are known to produce or use PFAS, or that are suspected of using PFAS.

Independent scientific research has linked low doses of some PFAS compounds to weakened childhood immunity, cancer, kidney and thyroid disease, and other serious health problems.

EWG’s analysis and interactive map identifies many industrial facilities that could be discharging PFAS. Some have already been confirmed as a source of drinking water contamination, but tap water near other listed facilities may not have been tested.

Our data comes from the following sources:

  • The EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting Rule, which lists 28 industrial facilities that have disclosed the production and use of large quantities of PFAS chemicals. These include well-known companies such as Chemours (a spinoff of DuPont), 3M and Dow Corning. These facilities are known to produce or use PFAS chemicals but are not required to disclose through the Toxics Release Inventory whether they are releasing PFAS chemicals into the air or water.
  • The EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online, or ECHO, from which EWG identified 2,444 industrial facilities that, based on the type of industry, could be using PFAS in their production process. This includes chemical producers, tanneries, carpet and rug mills, coated-paper-product plants, electroplating facilities, semiconductor factories and wire manufacturers.
  • A 2017 survey by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which found 28 facilities in the state that reported past use of PFOA or PFOS – the two most notorious members of the PFAS family of thousands of compounds – including 13 facilities that currently store PFOA and PFOS onsite.
  • A 2017 internal EPA memorandum that identifies different PFAS uses.

Our count of industrial sites does not include 446 public water systems known to be contaminated with PFAS or the 678 military installations with known or suspected PFAS contamination.

Many of the industrial sites identified in our analysis closely correlate with known PFAS contamination sites previously identified and mapped by EWG.

Until recently, chemical companies have not been required to report industrial releases of PFAS through the federal Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI. Of the industrial facilities known or suspected of using PFAS, EWG found that 2,467 are already reporting other toxic chemical releases through the TRI. Last year, Congress included a provision in must-pass legislation that will add 172 PFAS to the TRI, but that reporting will not start until next year.

There are no restrictions currently on industrial PFAS discharges under the federal Clean Water Act. In many communities, industrial discharges of PFAS are the most significant source of PFAS pollution entering drinking water supplies. Because there is no requirement that manufacturers or industrial users of PFAS pretreat their waste, PFAS is also contaminating municipal biosolids, which are often applied to farm fields and city parks as fertilizer, as well as sold to home gardeners.

In January, the House passed the PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535), which would, among other things, establish deadlines for the EPA to determine how to regulate industrial discharges of PFAS under the Clean Water Act.

Specifically, the Clean Water Act provisions in H.R. 535 would:

  • Require the EPA to establish effluent limitation and pretreatment standards for PFAS for priority industry categories like chemical companies and textile mills within four years.
  • Ensure priority industries like chemical companies and textile mills obtain a permit before discharging PFAS.
  • Ensure priority industries like chemical companies and textile mills pretreat their PFAS waste before sending PFAS to a publicly owned sewage treatment plant.
  • Prohibit indirect discharges of industrial PFAS into municipal wastewater treatment plants without advance notice.

A similar version of these provisions, which has been championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) and by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), was also included in the Moving Forward framework for infrastructure legislation released by House Democrats in January.

 

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