EPA loophole lets 600 toxic PFAS chemicals evade review, petition says

Chemical plants and refineries near the Houston Ship Channel are seen next to the Manchester neighborhood in the industrial east end of Houston, Texas, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
  • Petition says EPA rules are letting some dangerous chemicals avoid review
  • EPA recently proposed designating two types of PFAS as hazardous under Superfund

(Reuters) - A loophole in the federal government’s procedures for reviewing new chemicals has allowed at least 600 so-called forever chemicals into American markets despite evidence they pose serious health risks, according to a petition filed Thursday.

A coalition of environmental and community health advocates petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying it gives certain new chemicals a pass from more rigorous review if they’re not expected to be used in high volumes. This has allowed hundreds of variations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to slip through, posing a cumulative health risk.

PFAS are found in things such as nonstick coatings, carpets and firefighting foams – and can cause cancer, immune system damage, cardiovascular diseases and developmental diseases.

In June, the EPA issued a warning saying that even water with scarce amounts of PFAS can pose risks to human health. The agency issued its first order under its national PFAS testing strategy aimed at bolstering available data on the prevalence of the chemicals. In August, the EPA said it will propose designating two of the chemicals as hazardous substances under the nation’s Superfund law – hoping to spark cleanup of countless sites and industrial sites.

“If EPA is serious about addressing the PFAS crisis, it must immediately take off the market all PFAS that were approved through misused exemptions,” said Eve Gartner, a managing attorney at Earthjustice, which represents the coalition.

The EPA has an obligation under the Toxic Substances Control Act to thoroughly review new chemicals before they hit American shelves, petitioners said, and exemptions for low volumes and low releases and exposures of new chemicals aren’t appropriate. The groups are asking the EPA to pull approvals for those chemicals and for thorough reviews, consistent with claims by the Biden administration that it believes PFAS is a serious concern.

PFAS have in recent years been found in dangerous concentrations in food, soils and drinking water sources across the U.S., and have been at the center of a growing number of lawsuits against manufacturers. The chemicals are known as "forever chemicals" for their longevity in the human body and the environment.

Litigation is pending throughout the country to determine who will pay for the cleanup of the chemicals, including the filtering systems that just one community in California says will cost them $1 billion. A recent study indicates that at least 57,000 sites across the country have been contaminated.

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