PEERMail: PFAS Action is Inaction

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Nowhere are the consequences of the Trump Administration’s purge of scientists and the stacking of government positions with industry lobbyist more apparent than in its handling of calls to regulate PFAS chemicals- or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

By handling, I mean evasions, delays, and vague promises of future calls to action.

It’s clear that Andy Wheeler, EPA’s new Administrator, has no intention of taking timely action to protect the public from these toxic chemicals.

That’s why Thursday PEER called on Congress to enact a moratorium on the manufacture and importation of new PFAS and to require industries that manufacture or use these chemicals to contribute to a research fund for human health risk assessment by expert toxicologists without ties to those industries.

Our call comes on the heels of new data released by PEER showing that the number of unique PFAS produced and imported in the U.S. is approaching record levels.

PFAS are used in firefighting foam and a wide variety of consumer products from food packaging to clothing, shoes, furniture, carpets and cosmetics. Exposure to PFAS are associated with birth defects, developmental damage to infants, the liver, kidneys and the immune system, as well as cancer risk.

Over the past several years, safety concerns about PFAS burst into public view after revelations of PFAS contamination in community drinking water systems throughout the country, and disclosures that industry and EPA worked together to suppress information on the dangers of certain PFAS to human health and the environment.

Responding to lawsuits and public concerns about the toxicity, persistent, and bio-accumulative nature of PFAS, industry agreed to begin phasing out one PFAS chemical, PFOS, in 2002, and another PFOA, by 2015. The data released by PEER show that industry immediately began replacing PFOA and PFOS – called “long-chain” PFAS – with “short chain” PFAS, often called “Gen X.”

And here is the problem: as with PFOA and PFOS, EPA is relying on industry assurances that these new PFAS chemicals are safe, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Stalling is nothing new for EPA when it comes to taking protective actions on PFAS, or other toxic chemicals for that matter. But Administrator Wheeler has taken inaction to a whole new level.

With mounting nation-wide bipartisan calls for EPA to act to protect human health, EPA has released an Action Plan. The Action Plan offers no action and no plan, other than to suggest that it may issue a proposed rule sometime in the future, and after that it may then issue a final rule, which may cover some PFAS chemicals.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, on Tuesday, PEER sent a letter asking the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to issue a “Do Not Eat” advisory for fish and game within five miles of the most PFAS contaminated surface waters.

In mid-March, PEER sued the Navy for release of information on sampling data for PFAS in groundwater near a base in Southern California, on why the Navy failed to delineate PFAS plumes, and on why it failed to disclose the PFAS contamination in its Finding of Suitability for Transfer of the properties for municipal, commercial, and residential development.

The time for inaction is long past. It is time for Congress to act.

Bernhardt’s Bad Actors
As acting Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt has illegally appointed other acting officials to carry out most agency functions. PEER has issued a new report, called Bernhardt’s Bad Actors, detailing how he is undermining the Senate’s advice and consent power just as he enters that very process as he embarks on his confirmation hearings to succeed his former boss, Ryan Zinke.

Never-Ending Cleanups
PEER is focusing in on two scandal-plagued, fraud-filled radiation cleanups the U.S. Navy is conducting in San Francisco. One at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard has gone on for 30 years. The other at Naval Station Treasure Island has gone on for 20 years. Both also point to the urgent need for us as a nation to force our own Department of Defense to start doing timely, responsible remediations.  It is beyond time for the Pentagon to clean up after itself.

Shrinking Hoofprints

See how the federal program affecting the largest land area – public lands commercial livestock grazing – has shrunk to a tiny, hidden sliver of cyber-space on the BLM website. It is so small that BLM’s vast sheep and cattle program shares a page with Alaska reindeer grazing. But at BLM, reindeer games aren’t any fun, just part of BLM’s broad abdication of responsible range management.

Thinking Back

As I finish my first PEERMail, I am reminded how when I was an EPA enforcement attorney in the 1990s one of my management’s responsibilities was to protect us from unwarranted political influences, and for the most part, they did a very good job at that. With corporate influence, corruption, and self-dealing now running amok in Washington — I am thankful that PEER is here to stand with those public servants who work for good government and a healthy environment. Stayed tuned. We’ll be back!

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