EPA’s Mis-Management Plan on PFAS:  Waste Time While Millions Drink Toxic Tap Water

WASHINGTON  – The Environmental Protection Agency today failed, once again, to take strong, decisive action to protect the public from a dangerous class of chemicals known as PFAS—perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.  The agency issued a long-awaited “management plan” on PFAS, saying it would propose a regulatory determination this year. What that means, in practice, is that EPA would finalize standards—if it decides to regulate at all—within 5 to 10 years. The agency said it would continue to consider listing two of these chemicals under Superfund cleanup requirements.

The following is a statement from Erik Olson, Senior Director for Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“Has the Trump administration so thoroughly purged EPA of scientists, and so completely stacked its management with industry lobbyists, that it can’t even decide whether to lift a finger to regulate widely-known toxic chemicals? While the agency fumbles with this ‘mis-management plan,’ millions of people will be exposed to highly toxic PFAS from drinking contaminated water. As a guardian of public health, Administrator Andrew Wheeler should revisit this embarrassing decision. With EPA asleep at the wheel, it’s up to states, citizens, and public-minded companies to take action.”

Just two members of this class of toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, are known to be present in the drinking water serving at least 6 million people at levels exceeding EPA’s unenforceable Health Advisory limit. Communities across the nation serving tens of millions of Americans likely have PFAS in drinking water at levels as much as hundreds of times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and independent scientists consider safe— a level far lower than what EPA has stated is acceptable.

Even at low levels, PFAS have been linked to a range of serious illnesses, including cancer of the kidneys and testicles, thyroid and liver disease, lower fertility in women, harm to developing fetuses, infants and children, higher cholesterol and weakened immune systems. 

Used in Teflon cookware, and aqueous firefighting foam, PFAS are ubiquitous in the environment and do not break down easily.  In addition to drinking water, these chemicals are found in food packaging, clothing, carpets, furniture and cosmetics. There are at least 4,700 PFAS chemicals in the class that have been cleared for use.

To read about NRDC’s recommended actions on PFAS, here is a blog by Erik Olson.

EPA’s plan is here.

For EPA’s prior announcements on PFAS management, see here.

For more information, Erik Olson’s recent written testimony on PFAS to a House subcommittee is here and his presentation at the EPA PFAS Summit is here,

Also note that a Trump administration staffer reportedly warned the agency that findings from a federal study last year suggesting EPA had significantly underestimated the level of harm from exposure to PFAS could become a “public relations nightmare.”

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC