Sunday, October 2, 2022

EPA unveils strategy to regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is launching a broad strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds associated with serious illness that are used in products ranging from kitchen utensils to carpets to fire fighting foams.

Michael Regan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said it is taking a series of actions to limit pollution from a cluster of durable chemicals known as PFAS, which are increasingly found in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food.

The plan is designed to limit the release of PFAS to the environment, expedite clean-up of PFAS-contaminated sites such as military bases, and increase investment in research to learn more about where PFAS is located and how it can be prevented from spreading.

“It’s a bold strategy that starts with immediate action” and includes additional steps “that will last until this first term” by President Joe Biden, Regan told The Associated Press. “We’re going to use all of the tools in our toolbox to limit human exposure to these toxic chemicals.”

READ MORE: Even if your drinking water gets a “passing grade,” it may not be safe.

PFAS, called “forever chemicals” because they persist in the environment for so long, have been linked to serious illnesses, including cancer and weight loss at birth.

PFAS stands for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyls, which are used in non-stick pans, water-repellent sports equipment, dirt-repellent rugs and many other consumer products. The chemical bonds are so strong that they do not decompose or decompose very slowly in the environment and remain in the human bloodstream indefinitely.

In line with the strategy announced on Monday, the EPA will move to impose aggressive drinking water restrictions for PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act and will require PFAS manufacturers to disclose how toxic their products are. The agency also intends to designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the so-called Superfund Act, which allows the EPA to force companies responsible for pollution to pay for cleanup work or do it themselves.

These actions will make it easier for the EPA to ensure that cleanups are carried out safely and that “the polluter is paying for it,” Regan said.

Environmental and Health Groups welcomed this announcement. Lawyers have long called for action against PFAS by the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Defense and other agencies.

Thousands of communities have found PFAS chemicals in their water, and PFAS have been confirmed at nearly 400 military sites, according to an environmental working group, research and advocacy organization.

“Nobody has to worry about toxic chemicals in tap water,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the group. “We are grateful that Administrator Regan will fulfill President Biden’s promise to reach out to (PFAS) … and begin shutting off the industrial pollution tap, PFAS.”

The American Chemicals Council, representing major chemical companies, said it supports “strict, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS.” But the group added: “All PFAS are not the same and not all should be regulated in the same way. The EPA roadmap highlights the differences between these chemistries and that they should not be lumped together. We hope and expect that whatever the federal government does is sound science. ”

The regulatory strategy emerged as Congress is considering broad legislation to establish a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS chemicals and clean up contaminated sites across the country, including military bases where high levels of PFAS have been found.

The House Act will set a national drinking water standard for PFAS and instruct the EPA to develop discharge limits for a number of businesses suspected of releasing PFAS into water. The bill stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, Michigan, the lead sponsor of the House bill, welcomed the EPA’s announcement and said cleanup of PFAS-contaminated sites should begin immediately.

“We have known about PFAS and its dangerous effects for years, and today the federal government has made a commitment to the American people that these chemicals can no longer be ignored,” she said.

Even after the EPA’s action, Congress still has to pass legislation to regulate and clear the PFAS, Dingell said. “It’s time for the Senate to act,” she said.

Regan, a former North Carolina environmental regulator who took over the EPA in March, said he saw firsthand in his home state just how dangerous PFAS can be.

As North Carolina’s chief environmentalist, Regan negotiated the cleanup of the Cape Fear River, which was dangerously contaminated with PFAS industrial compounds that had been produced for decades at a manufacturing facility run by a subsidiary of the chemical giant DuPont.

“I spent time with families in their communities, talking to them about the fears and anxieties they had,” said Regan, who was scheduled to speak at a press conference Monday in Raleigh. “I spent time talking to mothers who were concerned about the potential long-term impact on their children, to caregivers who wondered if their loved ones’ incurable diseases were related to the release of PFAS from Fayetteville Works.

“So there is a real urgency,” he added. “And in North Carolina we moved forward. We followed the law and science and we brought the perpetrators to justice. “

However, he said, the state’s position would be stronger “if the federal government were a better and stronger partner.”

The EPA under his leadership “has done more in eight months” on PFAS than the previous leadership has done in four years, Regan said.
Officials expect the proposed rule on PFAS in drinking water to be in place by 2023, Regan said. “We’re going to put these restrictions on safe drinking water as soon as possible,” he said.

The PFAS action will not be “at the expense of the American people,” Regan added. “We hold polluters accountable and take full advantage of our statutory powers to make sure they pay for what they did.”

Nation World News Desk
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