One Year Into Trump’s PFAS Action Plan, Few Signs of Progress

Friday marks one year since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its latest plan to address the crisis of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which have likely contaminated a majority of drinking water supplies nationwide. But President Trump’s so-called action plan has met few of the milestones parents expect from a one-year-old.

The 72-page plan would certainly help anyone sleep through the night. But Trump’s plan has barely crawled, much less walked. After one year, the Trump administration has:

  • Failed to set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water. The EPA promised senators it would move forward with efforts to set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious fluorinated compounds, which are linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, thyroid disease and other health impacts. But the EPA’s proposal has been blocked by the White House.   
  • Failed to clean up existing PFAS pollution. Despite a pledge by former EPA boss Scott Pruitt, the agency has failed to even submit to the White House a proposal to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, which would kick-start the cleanup process at the most contaminated sites. What’s more, the administration has actually weakened cleanup standards.
  • Failed to reduce ongoing releases of PFAS. Although almost 500 industrial facilities could be discharging PFAS into the air and water, the EPA has done nothing to stop them.
  • Delayed key studies. Trump’s EPA has delayed key studies of the toxicity of other PFAS, including studies of GenX and PFBS.
  • Approved new PFAS chemicals. Meanwhile the EPA has not only failed to finalize a rule to limit new uses of PFAS but also continued to approve new PFAS chemicals despite failing to test to determine whether they are any safer than the hundreds already on the market. 

The EPA has approved a new method to detect PFAS in drinking water, but the Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to hide detections of PFAS in food. The administration has also proposed more reporting of industrial PFAS discharges into the air and water but did not identify which of the compounds would have to be reported.

No wonder those and other meager efforts earned Trump’s EPA a grade of D minus from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. But the agency’s poor PFAS report cards date back more than two decades.

Here’s a timeline of the agency’s shameful record.

In 1998, EPA officials were first notified by 3M that PFAS chemicals 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 unaware of studies linking PFOA, used to make Teflon, to health harms – even though the agency had just fined DuPont for failing to report its health effects, and 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 PFOS, an ingredient in Scotchgard. The second PFAS action plan, issued a year ago, contains many of the same recommendations and includes no deadlines.

Without irony, EPA recently 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. 

So it should be no surprise that Congress recently passed H.R. 535, the bipartisan PFAS Action Act. The legislation would immediately designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, set a two-year deadline for EPA to establish a drinking water standard, and set deadlines for EPA to finally restrict PFAS releases into the air and water.

Clearly, at one year old, the EPA’s PFAS action plan needs more adult supervision.

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