For Immediate Release: Jun 06, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
“Action Plan” Too Weak and Limited to Meaningfully Protect Public Health
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s pending plan to stem an escalating chemical contamination crisis is woefully inadequate, according to formal comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group highlights a series of needed steps that EPA has yet to even address.
EPA’s “Draft Interim Recommendations to Address Groundwater Contaminated with Perfluorooctanic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate” is open for public comment through Monday. Known as PFOA and PFOS, respectively, the two chemicals covered by these interim recommendations belong to a class of chemicals called Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and bioaccumulate in the food chain. Despite being associated with an array of adverse health effects, there are still no enforceable federal drinking water standards for these chemicals.
These pending recommendations purport to implement a highly touted EPA “PFAS Action Plan” unveiled this February. PEER comments point to crippling limitations, such as the plan –
- Covers only groundwater contaminated with PFAS, yet surface waters (lakes, rivers, and reservoirs) provide drinking water for most (170 million) Americans;
- Applies only to sites being cleaned due to contamination from non-PFAS chemicals under laws such as Superfund. EPA does not see PFAS contamination alone as being a basis for cleanup despite hundreds of known PFAS-contaminated sites across the country; and
- Proposes cleanup standards for only two (PFOA and PFOS) of roughly 4,000 PFAS chemicals and then only under standards that are far weaker than those being imposed by states or recommended by the federal government’s own Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“To say that this EPA plan is abysmal would be too kind,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and scientist formerly with EPA. “Under its current leadership, EPA appears incapable of fulfilling its mission of protecting the public from emerging health threats.”
Several limitations reflect EPA deferring to objections from other agencies during interagency review. Some key revisions reflect concerns previously raised by the Pentagon, a principal PFAS polluter.
The PEER comments also outline a series of public health steps that EPA should take on an emergency basis, but which currently are not on the agency’s regulatory agenda.
“Significantly, EPA has no handle on sharply growing PFAS manufacture, importation, storage, and disposal,” added Executive Director Tim Whitehouse of PEER, which is preparing a series of legal actions designed to fill critical gaps. “The PFAS crisis is going to get much worse unless there are major course corrections far beyond EPA’s terribly timid plan.”