WASHINGTON – Federal agencies are failing to meet their own major milestones for taking actions to protect communities from the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, roughly a year after the White House promised “accelerated efforts” to tackle the harmful chemicals.
President Joe Biden made addressing PFAS to “secure environmental justice” a top election campaign pledge. However, the Environmental Working Group’s recently updated “Federal PFAS Report Card” – which tracks the status of the Biden administration’s PFAS pledges – reflects an alarming number of missed or delayed milestones on key actions that could help to protect Americans from PFAS.
Following the White House release of a government-wide plan for PFAS in October 2021, over one-third of the scheduled actions are overdue. More concerning, EWG found the backlog of overdue actions more than doubled after agencies missed key milestones that were pledged in the last quarter of 2022.
Some of the most important actions in the Biden administration’s plan are incomplete or have been pushed to later dates. These measures include Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on PFAS released into waterways, standards to protect drinking water from PFAS, and monitoring to assess PFAS in air emissions.
The failure to propose standards to protect drinking water tops the EPA’s list of unfinished business. The proposal was due in fall 2022 but has not been released. EWG estimates more than 200 million Americans are drinking PFAS-contaminated water.
The EPA also announced on January 20, 2023, that it would delay setting limits on industrial discharges of PFAS into waterways, known as Effluent Limitation Guidelines. The delay means PFAS pollution of water could remain unchecked for years.
Other agencies also missed important deadlines. The Department of Defense failed to submit a Congressionally-mandated schedule and cost estimates for the cleanup of over 400 installations known to have PFAS-tainted ground water.
The Federal Aviation Administration still has not allowed airports to end their use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam – well over one year past a deadline set by Congress.
“The deadlines are slipping. Without more urgency, it will be years before communities are safe from PFAS, discharges into water are controlled, and contamination is cleaned up,” said John Reeder, EWG’s vice president for federal affairs.
“Communities have waited decades for action. The administration needs to renew and re-energize its commitment to tackle PFAS,” said Reeder.
PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they are among the most persistent toxic compounds in existence, contaminating everything from drinking water to food, food packaging and personal care products. They never break down in the environment.
“Every day of delay in controlling PFAS and holding corporate polluters accountable prolongs unnecessary risks to communities,” said La’Meshia Whittington, with Green Majority, a political advocacy organization for environmental justice, climate justice, and pro-democracy reform. “The Biden plan for PFAS was heralded as a turning point, but delays threaten to derail the president’s environmental justice promises,” she said.
PFAS pose a particular threat to communities that are low-income or face historically disproportionate exposure to pollution, cumulative adverse health effects, and potentially insurmountable costs of water treatment or remediation. Research suggests communities with a majority of people of color may be especially affected by PFAS.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) 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.