President Joe Biden has promised to make decisions based on science and data.
The Environmental Protection Agency has every chance of delivering on that promise. It recently launched an initiative to research any risks associated with PFAS chemicals in the country’s drinking water.
PFAS is short for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances,” and they are found in all kinds of industrial and consumer goods used every day.
But while there is ample evidence of the essential functions of PFAS, there is little data on the effects of PFAS in our environment. Even the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that exposure to PFAS is “generally lower than in today’s consumer products.”
Despite this lack of objective information, a handful of state legislatures have proposed or implemented an outright ban on the use of these chemicals to make everyday products such as nonstick cooking pans, waterproof clothing and stain-proof carpets. are important for. And recently, federal lawmakers introduced a bill that would declare them a dangerous substance, bypassing scientific review.
Yet further extension of these restrictions would jeopardize the availability of goods that exist only because of the unique properties of PFAS. Without additional scientific evidence, they would be reckless and foolish.
PFAS has been around since 1940. These include about 5,000 man-made compounds, which are characterized by a unique structure that allows them to resist water, heat, and oil. PFAS are used to protect our cellphones from most water damage, and to create seals for vehicles that prevent harmful emissions from leaking into the air we breathe.
PFAS also have important health and safety uses for our frontline public security personnel. They exist in fire suppression applications. Many implantable medical devices are strengthened by PFAS, reducing the likelihood that an instrument will need to be replaced through additional surgery. And because they are uniquely effective as repellents, they are used in the PPE gowns and masks that protect us and our healthcare workers.
The elimination of PFAS would also affect the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, which, as the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program noted, “represents geopolitically important technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing; and critical infrastructure and services that require the use of technology.” But the daily functioning of the society depends, such as the 5G network.”
The proposed restrictions on PFAS are based on concerns that their presence in our air and water would harm human health. It is a panic that reaches the highest levels of government. Biden’s campaign promised to designate PFAS a hazardous substance and set PFAS limits, and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan has said they would be a “top priority.”
But all this is happening without sound data. While some studies have linked PFAS exposure to higher health risks, others have not, and most researchers agree that the science is inconclusive at best.
The Environmental International’s 2020 review on PFAS and health outcomes concluded that “the epidemiological evidence remains limited,” and that “as the literature matures, the need to advance research on specific different health endpoints becomes greater.” becomes clear.”
Without strong evidence, it would be irresponsible to impose a complete ban on a product that has been improving our lives for over 80 years. Economic and social trade will be harmful, making the situation worse for all of us. After all, these scientific breakthroughs are the cornerstone of many industries and innovations. In most cases, there are no readily available alternatives to swaps that would achieve the same purpose. can never happen.
Of course, federal regulators should aim to reduce the risk of any contaminants in our water supply. Scientists are already working to find ways to remove PFAS from drinking water, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new research initiative will add clarity to that finding.
But studying potential contaminants takes time. Enforcing a complete ban on PFAS before research is conclusive – and without alternatives – could be both unscientific and dangerous to our health.
Michael James Barton is the founder of Hyatt Solutions and previously served as Deputy Director of Middle East Policy at the Pentagon.