EPA Plays Political Shell Game on PFAS Definition

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Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933


EPA Plays Political Shell Game on PFAS Definition

No Sound Scientific Basis Available for Any of the Changing Definitions


Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is maneuvering to shirk much of its responsibility for addressing the PFAS contamination crisis by narrowing the definition of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) it will use, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The net result will leave thousands of PFAS largely unregulated under EPA’s emerging definition that varies widely from those adopted by states and other nations.

In June 2021, EPA unveiled a new “working definition” for PFAS that differed markedly from definitions used by other entities. EPA offered no scientific explanation for this new definition. It also stalled a PEER Freedom of Information Act request for the definition’s origin, ultimately prompting PEER to file a FOIA suit. After more than a year of litigation, EPA still remains unable to produce any records justifying its action.

The agency then pivoted, disclosing last month it is no longer using this “working definition” in favor of a new “case-by-case approach” designed to be more lenient and “flexible” in handling the estimated 12,000 or more PFAS species.

“EPA claims to be a science-based agency, but on PFAS the only discipline exhibited has been political science,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, who has long urged that PFAS chemicals be regulated uniformly as a class rather than employing the chemical-by-chemical approach EPA appears to have adopted. “This new shifting standard is devoid of any scientific rigor and will undoubtedly subject every EPA regulatory decision to a lobbyist feeding frenzy.”

    • Instead of banning persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) PFAS that are expected to lead to exposure and releases, EPA is calling for additional testing, which does not protect human health and the environment;
    • Backtracking on a pledge to remove PFAS detected in an array of pesticides, many of which are aerially sprayed over agricultural crops; and
    • Quietly supporting a legislative rewrite of the Superfund law with a PFAS definition that is exceedingly narrow and is at variance with the definitions adopted in many states as well as the European Union and Canada.

“EPA’s approach to addressing PFAS more resembles a three-card monte dealer than a public health agency,” added Bennett, noting that EPA has made no apparent effort to harmonize its efforts with the approaches adopted by other countries and several states. “On PFAS, EPA has adopted the posture championed by chemical companies while ignoring the almost universal advice from public health professionals.”


Look at PEER litigation to uncover basis for PFAS working definition  

View non-explanatory fragments EPA ultimately produced in the PEER suit  

Decipher EPA’s new proposed flexible PFAS approach 

See EPA stall on plastic containers infused with PFAS 

Look at new proposed narrow legislative definition 

Read the case for treating PFAS as one category

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