WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called PFAS management plan would only make the nationwide crisis of pervasive pollution from fluorinated compounds worse, EWG said.
The plan from the Trump EPA, released today, would not stop the introduction of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS chemicals in everyday products, alert Americans to the risk of PFAS pollution or clean up contaminated drinking water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans.
Instead, it perpetuates the agency’s record of foot-dragging on establishing meaningful protections against a class of chemicals linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, among other serious health harms.
“Once again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is the nation’s first pro-cancer president,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at EWG, which has studied PFAS chemicals for almost 20 years.
“This so-called plan is actually a recipe for more PFAS contamination, not less,” Faber said. “It’s shameful that the EPA has taken two decades to produce a plan that allows increased exposure to compounds whose makers have used the American people as guinea pigs and, with the EPA’s complicity, covered it up.”
The plan released today once again delays action to set drinking water standards or designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under Superfund laws.
Here is what EPA and other federal agencies should do to address PFAS contamination.
- Find out where they’re coming from. Adding PFAS chemicals to the Toxic Release Inventory would disclose who is releasing them into our water, soil and air. Polluters should also be required to warn neighboring communities of their potential exposure.
- Find out where PFAS chemicals already are. Requiring utilities and regulators to monitor for PFAS in drinking water, air and food, and improving the tools to measure contamination, would tell us the extent of the PFAS contamination crisis. Agencies like EPA and the Centers for Disease Control should also conduct body burden testing, medical monitoring and health impact studies of people impacted by PFAS contamination, especially military families.
- Stop approving new PFAS chemicals. An estimated 5,000 PFAS chemicals are in use, so there’s no reason for the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration to let any more on the market. The EPA should also finalize a rule that would require companies to get the agency’s approval before using some kinds of PFAS chemicals.
- Stop adding more PFAS chemicals to the environment. PFAS should be banned from consumer products, including cookware, food packaging, cosmetics, carpeting and clothing. They should also be banned from firefighting foam, especially foam used at civilian airports and in training exercises. The EPA should also regulate the discharge of toxic PFAS chemicals into our air and water.
- Add PFAS to the Superfund cleanup law. Classifying PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Superfund law will help communities begin to clean up contaminated sites. EPA should also make sure PFAS chemicals are properly disposed of.
- Set an enforceable limit for PFAS in tap water. More than 1,500 drinking water systems serving about 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS chemicals. Setting a legal limit, known as a maximum contaminant level or MCL, will require utilities to treat tap water to remove or lower PFAS contamination. States should also set their own legal limits. Since the EPA has failed to start the process to establish an MCL, state action is essential and urgent.
- Direct the military to quickly clean up contaminated bases. Pentagon data shows that at least 36 military installations have on-base drinking water contamination that exceeds the EPA’s non-binding health advisory for the PFAS chemicals formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard. The Department of Defense has identified 401 military installations with known or potential contamination.
- Make polluters pay their fair share. Many of the companies who manufactured or used PFAS knew the risks to human health but failed to protect workers or nearby residents, or notify the EPA or state and local regulators. Adding PFAS to Superfund will ensure that polluters pay. Polluters should also be responsible for taking back and safely disposing of their PFAS products, like firefighting foams. Other measures, such as a cleanup trust fund, should also be created, and Americans impacted by PFAS pollution should be allowed to take action through the courts.
“It’s good news that states aren’t waiting to make PFAS a priority,” Faber said. According to Safer States, a coalition of state-level chemical safety groups, at least 13 states will consider legislation, ranging from bills to require more PFAS disclosure to bans on PFAS in food packaging, firefighting foam and flame retardants. Proposed legislation, detailed in Safer States’ interactive map, includes:
- Banning PFAS in food packaging: At least eight states will consider policy to eliminate or reduce PFASs in food packaging. States considering bans include: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
- Banning PFAS in firefighting foam: At least nine states will consider policies to ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. Washington state passed a ban on PFAS in foam last year and the Federal Aviation Administration has been directed to rewrite regulations to allow for PFAS-free foams at airports. States considering bans are Alaska, Connecticut. Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Vermont.
- Addressing PFAS in drinking water: Beyond regulating PFAS in firefighting foam, at least seven states will consider policies to limit levels of PFAS in drinking water, as well as fund cleanup of contaminated drinking water, including medical monitoring and testing. States considering actions include Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington.
“It’s also good news that some members of Congress have introduced or are considering bills to expand PFAS monitoring, to ban some PFAS uses, and to set tough clean up standards, among other priorities,” Faber said.
Congress has already passed legislation to allow civilian airports to use PFAS-free firefighting foam and legislation to study PFAS’ health effects. Bipartisan bills to monitor PFAS in drinking water sources and accelerate PFAS cleanup at military bases were introduced last Congress, and a bill to designate PFAS a hazardous substance under Superfund has been reintroduced this session.