WASHINGTON – A year after President Joe Biden ordered federal agencies to steer their purchasing contracts away from products that contain the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, a coalition of advocacy groups is urging further action from the administration on buying PFAS-free items.
The Environmental Working Group and 25 other organizations and businesses on Wednesday sent a letter to the General Services Administration asking it to “immediately stipulate that suppliers must provide to the government only products that are free of intentionally added PFAS” when safer alternatives are available.
The GSA negotiates federal contracts for a wide range of items, such as cookware, furniture, carpets and many other products.
The letter comes just days after 3M, one of the nation’s largest PFAS manufacturers and polluters, said it plans by the end of 2025 to stop producing the toxic chemicals and phase out their use. 3M has known for years about the harms caused by PFAS, which contaminate drinking water across the U.S.
PFAS are toxic at very low levels and have been linked to serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer and harm to the reproductive and immune systems. The chemicals are used to make water-, grease- and stain-repellent coatings for a vast array of consumer goods and industrial applications.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Defense Department and other agencies have outlined steps they are taking to tackle PFAS contamination as part of a government-wide plan announced by the White House in October 2021. But many agencies are behind schedule in meeting their goals. Securing the GSA’s commitment to phase out the purchase of products containing PFAS would be another important step.
“Safer alternatives to PFAS are already widely available for many commonly purchased products, and 3M’s exit from PFAS manufacturing will help spur development of even more alternatives,” said John Reeder, EWG vice president of federal affairs. “There’s no reason the government should keep buying PFAS-containing products.”
The federal government purchases over $650 billion every year in goods and services, so a commitment to buy only products free of PFAS represents an enormous opportunity to stimulate the marketplace to supply safer alternatives to PFAS-containing products. Manufacturers already offer hundreds of PFAS-free options for commonly purchased products, such as carpets, furniture, foodware and food packaging, flooring and floor finishes.
PFAS have been found at more than 2,800 sites in 50 states and contaminate the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. One of the most important ways to reduce PFAS exposure and production is by eliminating non-essential uses of PFAS wherever possible.
In their letter to the GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, the advocacy groups say continuing to buy products with PFAS undermines Biden’s executive order directing federal agencies to avoid purchasing such items.
Instead, the groups say the GSA should drop PFAS-containing items from its list of products available through government-wide contracts. With this change, the letter says, “[G]overnment procurement officials can easily comply with the executive order” by using the list.
The groups also urge the GSA to take the lead in changing federal purchasing regulations across the government, expand tracking, and improve reporting on government-wide progress in sustainable purchasing.
The DOD has already announced plans to update its contracts to prohibit purchase of certain products with PFOA and PFOS – the two most notorious and best studied PFAS – to comply with a requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.
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.