Gaping Hole in Biden PFAS Strategy
Documents Show EPA Has No Consistent Definition of PFAS
Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s adoption of a limited definition for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) appeared out of thin air, according to a trove of documents the agency released in response to a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This narrow approach appears destined to cripple the effectiveness of EPA’s highly touted “PFAS Strategic Roadmap.”
The more than 2,500 pages of documents the agency surrendered show –
- Different divisions within EPA unknowingly using different definitions of PFAS, with no coordination among scientists;
- EPA is uncertain as to how many PFAS their “working definition” encompasses, or whether certain pesticides and approved inert ingredients fall into their own definition; and
- No scientific basis found for the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) working definition of PFAS, and no reasons given for excluding thousands of chemicals included in State definitions.
“These documents portray EPA leaders far more concerned with politics and optics than science,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting EPA’s new working definition is at odds with the PFAS definition used internationally, by several states, and by EPA itself, until recently. “As it stands now, EPA’s Strategic Roadmap is a guide to nowhere, leaving much of the spreading toxic contamination untouched.”
EPA’s narrow approach is playing out in the agency’s recent decision to test for only 24 of the 54 PFAS identified in an enforcement petition brought by conservation groups seeking a cleanup of drinking water, air, food, and soil in Cape Fear, North Carolina from a nearby Chemours facility.
While the documents reflect the political decision to support a narrow definition, they are studded with redactions that may mask the purported scientific basis for that decision. The documents also make it clear that EPA has been struggling with the definition for years; one email from the spring of 2021 states, “…we know … [the lack of a definition] is an issue and there are many options at this time. It is an agency priority and we are working on a unified definition but do not have one as of yet.”
“Any claim of transparency by the Biden administration are belied by the ham-handed redactions applied to these emails,” added Bennett pointing out that the new narrow EPA working definition for PFAS appeared on its website in June 2021, seemingly out of nowhere, with no scientific antecedents or public review. “EPA’s refusal to disclose the scientific basis for its unique definition of PFAS, or why it is excluding thousands of PFAS chemicals, is an utter disgrace.”
Through its Freedom of Information Act litigation, PEER will have the opportunity to challenge every EPA redaction in court, a process that begins later this month.