It’s Time To End EPA’s Long History of Failing To Act on ‘Forever Chemicals’

The Environmental Protection Agency has a long history of failing to act to protect Americans from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which are linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

In 1998, EPA officials were first notified by 3M that PFAS were toxic. In 2001 the agency received internal company studies documenting PFAS’ health risks, and two years later received more animal studies.  

But under pressure from industry, in 2006, EPA said the agency was “not aware of any studies specifically relating current levels of [the PFAS chemical] PFOA exposure to human health effects.” The EPA made the ludicrous claim, even though in 2005 the agency had fined DuPont for failing to report PFOA’s health effects, and in 2006, EPA’s own Science Advisory Board found that PFOA was a likely human carcinogen.

Not until 2009 did the EPA issue its first PFAS Action Plan and establish a non-enforceable provisional health advisory for PFOA and its close chemical cousin PFOS – more than a decade after 3M shared studies showing PFAS chemicals were toxic. Because they build up in our bodies and don't break down in the environment, they're called "forever chemicals."

A second PFAS Action Plan, issued in 2019 – more than two decades after EPA was first alerted to the risks – contains many of the same recommendations and includes no deadlines for EPA action.

Ironically, this week the EPA issued a statement touting the agency’s “aggressive” efforts to address PFAS pollution – just hours before the White House threatened to veto House legislation that would set deadlines for EPA action on PFAS. 

Proposals to finally treat PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious PFAS chemicals, as hazardous and to set a drinking water standard for these chemicals have so far been blocked by the Trump White House.

Enough is enough.

It’s time for Congress to set meaningful deadlines for the EPA. H.R 535, the PFAS Action Act, will immediately designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, which will kickstart the clean-up process at contaminated sites.

H.R. 535 will also set a two-year deadline for EPA to set a drinking water standard, and will set deadlines for EPA to finally restrict PFAS releases into the air and water.

Congress should vote to finally end EPA’s long history of inaction on this still-growing public health threat.

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