It’s been 18 months since the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its plan to address the crisis of the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, which a new peer-reviewed study by EWG scientists estimates have likely contaminated the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans.
But the EPA’s so-called action plan has met few of the milestones parents expect from an 18-month-old. The Trump administration plan has barely crawled, much less walked.
On Facebook Live, EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh recently detailed how the EPA has failed to protect Americans from PFAS, which have been linked to suppression of the immune system and are associated with an elevated risk of cancer and reproductive and developmental harms, among other serious health concerns.
Briefly, Trump’s EPA has:
- Failed to set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water. The EPA promised it would set a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, the two most notorious fluorinated compounds. But although the EPA has issued a preliminary determination to set limits for PFOA and PFOS, actually enacting enforceable limits could take up to a decade – if not far longer.
- Failed to clean up existing PFAS pollution. Despite a pledge by former EPA boss Scott Pruitt and staff efforts to develop a formal rule, the agency has so far failed to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, which would kick-start the cleanup process at the most contaminated sites.
- Failed to reduce ongoing releases of PFAS. Although more than 2,500 industrial facilities are likely discharging PFAS into the air and water, the EPA has done nothing to stop them.
- Failed to ban PFAS from everyday products. Neither the EPA nor the Food and
Drug Administration has taken steps to ban the use of PFAS from household products ranging from carpets to cosmetics. Instead, the EPA exempted many products from a rule governing new uses of PFAS.
- Approved new PFAS chemicals. Meanwhile, the EPA has not only failed to finalize a rule to limit new uses of PFAS but has 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 a long record of failing to protect us from PFAS pollution.
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 in 2006, under pressure from the chemical industry, the EPA said it was unaware of studies linking PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, to health harms – even though the agency had just fined DuPont for failing to report its health effects, and the 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 3M’s Scotchgard. The second PFAS action plan, issued a year ago, contains many of the same recommendations and includes no deadlines.
Without irony, the 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.
Clearly, at 18 months old, the EPA’s PFAS action plan needs more adult supervision.