EPA: ‘Chemicals Forever’ Pose Risk Even at Very Low Levels | Technology
By MATTHEW DALY – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Environmental Protection Agency is warning that two non-stick and stain-resistant compounds found in drinking water are more dangerous than previously thought – and pose health risks even at levels so low that ‘they cannot currently be detected.
Both compounds, known as PFOA and PFOS, have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers, but there are a limited number of ongoing uses and the chemicals remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time. time. The compounds are part of a larger group of “eternal chemicals” known as PFAS that have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s.
The EPA released non-binding health advisories on Wednesday that set the health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS at near zero, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion. The chemicals are found in products such as cardboard packaging, carpets and fire-fighting foam
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At the same time, the agency is calling on states and territories to request $1 billion under the new bipartisan infrastructure law to address PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water. The money can be used for technical assistance, water quality testing, training contractors and installing centralized treatment, officials said.
Several states have set their own drinking water limits to combat PFAS contamination that are much stricter than federal guidelines. Toxic industrial compounds are associated with serious health problems, including cancer and reduced birth weight.
“People on the front lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “That’s why the EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to keep these chemicals out of the environment and help protect affected families from this ever-present challenge.
PFAS is the abbreviation for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports equipment, stain-resistant carpets, cosmetics and countless other consumer products. The chemical bonds are so strong that they do not or only slowly break down in the environment and remain in a person’s blood indefinitely.
The revised health guidelines are based on new science and take into account lifetime exposure to chemicals, the EPA said. Officials are no longer confident that the levels of PFAS permitted under the 2016 guidelines “do not have adverse health impacts,” an EPA spokesperson said.
While the new guidelines set acceptable risk below levels that can currently be measured, as a practical matter the EPA recommends that utilities take action against chemicals when they reach levels that can be measured – currently approximately four parts per trillion, a senior administration official told reporters. Tuesday evening.
The EPA said it plans to propose national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with a final rule expected in 2023.
In a related development, the EPA said for the first time it is issuing final health advisories for two chemicals that are considered substitutes for PFOA and PFOS. One group is known as GenX chemicals, while the other is known as PFBS. Health advisories for GenX chemicals were set at 10 parts per trillion, while PFBS was set at 2,000 parts per trillion.
The agency said the new advisories provide technical information that federal, state and local agencies can use to inform actions to address PFAS in drinking water, including water quality monitoring. , the use of filters and other technologies that reduce PFAS, and strategies to reduce exposure to the substances. .
Environmental and public health groups hailed the announcement as a good first step. Advocates have long called for action against PFAS after thousands of communities detected PFAS chemicals in their water. PFAS chemicals have been confirmed at nearly 400 military installations and at least 200 million Americans drink water contaminated with PFAS, according to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization.
“The EPA had the courage to follow the science. This is a step in the right direction,” said Stel Bailey, co-facilitator of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition.
“The science is clear: these chemicals are extremely toxic at extremely low doses,” added Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He called on the EPA to regulate all PFAS chemicals “with enforceable standards as a single class of chemicals.”
Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, said the EPA’s announcement “should set off alarm bells for consumers and regulators.” She urged the EPA to “act much more quickly to significantly reduce exposures to these toxic chemicals.”
The American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical companies, said in a statement that while it supports the development of drinking water standards for PFAS based on the best available science, the announcement of the EPA “reflects a failure by the agency to follow its accepted practice to ensure the scientific integrity of its process.”
Although the advisories are not binding, “they will have far-reaching policy implications at the state and federal levels,” the group said. “These new levels cannot be achieved with existing treatment technology and, in fact, are below levels that can be reliably detected using existing EPA methods.”
The Chemours Co., a DuPont spin-off that uses so-called GenX chemicals to produce high-performance fluoropolymers used in semiconductors, cell phones, hospital ventilators and other products, called the announcement of the EPA of “fundamentally flawed”.
The EPA “disregarded the relevant data and issued a health advisory contrary to the agency’s own standards and this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity,” Chemours said in a statement.
The company is “already using advanced technologies at our sites to reduce emissions and address historical releases,” Chemours said, adding that officials are assessing next steps, “including potential legal action, to address the ‘scientifically unfounded action by the EPA.’
A North Carolina state investigation found that Chemours had been dumping GenX from its Fayetteville Works plant into the Cape Fear River for years. EPA chief Regan was the state’s top environmental official when the investigation began and led negotiations that resulted in the river being cleaned up. Governor Roy Cooper and his current chief environment officer last week unveiled a three-pronged strategy to continue efforts to reduce and remediate a broad class of PFAS chemicals in water sources.
Legislation passed by the House would establish a national drinking water standard for PFAS and direct the EPA to develop release limits for a range of industries suspected of releasing PFAS into water. The bill stalled in the Senate.
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