NGOs, lawmakers say plan lacks specificity and leaves toxics management to states

Stakeholders have said they are frustrated with a lack of concrete action steps in the US EPA’s management plan for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

Last week saw the release of a long-awaited plan for addressing the substances, amid mounting public concern about their contamination in drinking water sources. The plan, which follows a 2009 approach for managing long-chain perfluorinated substances, largely focuses on expanding research and monitoring efforts while addressing contamination by legacy chemicals PFOA and PFOS.

But several NGOs and members of Congress have accused the EPA of “dragging its feet” on the issue, because it is focusing on conducting still more research into hazards that were initially raised more than a decade ago.

The NGO Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families said that the action plan does not act quickly enough. And considering the scope of the problem, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) agreed the plan is “woefully inadequate and lacks the necessary urgency.”

The organisation has called for addressing PFASs as a class to save time and money. “We don’t have time to waste eliminating one toxic chemical only to have a rebranded version, with similar health problems, pop back up and take its place,” it said.

Meanwhile, Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) questioned why it took the EPA so long to “just kick the can even further down the road”.

“While EPA acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink,” he wrote in a statement.

And across the aisle, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said the agency needs to “speak clearly about the risk” posed by the class of chemicals.

“The agency must be willing to take decisive action where it is warranted,” he continued.

However, one of Senator Carper’s main concerns – the plan’s lack of commitment on setting a PFOA or PFOS maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water – apparently will be addressed. EPA Assistant Administrator David Ross wrote a letter to Senator Carper this week expressing a “clear and firm” commitment to setting a drinking water standard. A timeline was not given for the standard’s release.

From industry’s perspective, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said it “firmly believe[s] that EPA is best positioned to provide the public with a comprehensive strategy informed by a full understanding of the safety and benefits of different PFAS chemistries.”

Action beyond the EPA

A number of organisations – such as the Environmental Working Group and Safer States – said they were optimistic that states are making PFASs a priority.

An analysis by Safer States shows that at least eight states are considering bans or restrictions on the use of PFASs in food packaging, while at least nine are considering restricting the use of PFASs in firefighting foam.

In 2018, the state of Washington became the first to pass certain measures to restrict the substance class.

Meanwhile, Representatives Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) and Paul Tonko (D-New York) have indicated that there might be room for further congressional action on the “growing water contamination and health crisis”.

“If EPA intends to drag its feet, Congress will have to step in and lead the fight to protect Americans from these dangerous chemicals,” they wrote in a joint statement.

Americas reporter