WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group has identified more than 1,500 textile mills that may be releasing the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that are responsible for contaminating drinking water across the U.S.
The analysis follows a recent report by Toxic-Free Future finding PFAS in coats, tablecloths, bedding and other textiles. And just a week ago, an investigation by Environmental Health News and wellness blog Mamavation found PFAS in yoga pants.
EWG’s analysis, based on a review of government data released by the Environmental Protection Agency, found 1,501 manufacturers of textiles may be discharging PFAS. There are no Environmental Protection Agency standards that limit PFAS discharges into air and water by textile mills or other companies.
Overall, EWG has found 29,900 industrial sites that could be using PFAS, including electroplating and polishing, petroleum stations and terminals, chemical manufacturers, metal product makers, commercial printing facilities, plastics and resin manufacturing sites, paint and coating manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers and electrical component makers.
“PFAS exposure can cause serious health impacts at very low levels. It is a public health crisis that these chemicals can and may be dumped into the air and water downstream of textile mills and other industrial sites,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG.
The textile industry is a significant user of PFAS chemicals and likely a major contributor to global contamination. The extent of PFAS discharges from textile mills remains unclear, because of loopholes in the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, which tracks annual industrial chemical releases. The Biden EPA has pledged to close these loopholes to determine where and what amount of PFAS is being released into the environment.
PFAS are a large family of fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, immune system damage and numerous other serious health problems.
No federal standards limiting PFAS discharges currently exist. But Congress is considering legislation that would place limits on PFAS discharges into water supplies.
The Clean Water Standards for PFAS Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), would force the EPA to set water discharge limits on PFAS from several industry sectors, including manufacturers of chemicals, paint, paper, plastics, electrical components, textiles and chemicals as well as leather tanning, metal finishing and electroplating companies.
The legislation was included in the broader PFAS Action Act, a package of measures tackling PFAS that the House of Representatives passed in July.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Senate companion to Pappas’ bill, and the upper chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee is also working on its version of the PFAS Action Act.
And some states, including Michigan, have begun to address PFAS releases by manufacturers.
“To address the PFAS contamination crisis, we need to turn off the tap of PFAS pollution at the source,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “We should not be making an already enormous public health emergency even bigger.”
The Biden EPA’s “PFAS Strategic Roadmap,” which outlines steps the agency will take through 2024 to address PFAS releases into the water and air, falls short of the bold action required. It offers only rough timelines for regulating or collecting data on PFAS in wastewater for 11 different categories of industrial polluters.
More than 200 million Americans could be drinking water contaminated with PFAS, according to EWG estimates. So far, PFAS have been confirmed in the drinking water of more than 2,400 communities. Regulating industrial discharges of the chemicals would be an important step in finally addressing the widespread problem of PFAS contamination.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.