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EPA grants petition requiring PFAS testing, local groups say it doesn’t go far enough

Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 5:00 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The Environmental Protection Agency has granted a petition that will compel companies that produce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to conduct testing on health effects.

However, environmental activists who submitted the petition say the EPA didn’t go far enough with their requirements.

“EPA’s petition response did not announce any new studies on the 54 PFAS. It said it would require limited testing on 7 of the 54 PFAS, but this testing had previously been announced in October under EPA’s general PFAS testing strategy. In declining to require testing on additional PFAS produced by Chemours, EPA claimed it could determine their health effects by extrapolating from studies it plans to require on 24 ‘representative’ substances under its testing strategy,” according to a statement released by the petitioners on Wednesday.

“This highly theoretical and unproven approach, which is based on complex computational models, rejects the recommendations of petitioners, more than 120 public health organizations, and dozens of leading scientists that EPA should focus testing on those PFAS that directly threaten human health,” it continued.

The EPA, however, says this is a good step towards providing people with potential risks of the substances being released into the air, water, and even ground.

“Communities in North Carolina and across the country deserve to know the potential risks that exposure to PFAS pose to families and children,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a press release. “By taking action on this petition, EPA will have a better understanding of the risks from PFAS pollution so we can do more to protect people. This data will also help us identify the sources of pollution so we can hold those accountable for endangering the public. EPA is fully committed to addressing this longstanding pollution challenge, and today we take another critical step forward to protect the water, air, and land we all depend on.”

The petition was first filed in October of 2020 by the Center for Environmental Health, Cape Fear River Watch, Clean Cape Fear, Democracy Green, Toxic Free NC, and the NC Black Alliance.

It requested the EPA “require health and environmental effects testing on 54 chemical substances the petition identifies as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) released into the environment by The Chemours Company (Chemours) at its chemical production facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.”

However, the petitioners disagree with the press release and say it does not do what they had asked for, specifically, testing to determine the impacts these substances have on people.

“As the director of an environmental nonprofit who believed in and trusted the folks of this EPA to do the right thing, I am furious; as a poisoned community member who is also grieving the loss of a firefighter brother whose cancer could be explained by this data, I am heartbroken,” Dana Sargent of Cape Fear River Watch said.

While the request specifically referred to Chemours, the EPA’s plan is aimed at all producers of these substances.

“EPA plans to require PFAS manufacturers to provide the agency with toxicity data and information on categories of PFAS. EPA expects to exercise its TSCA section 4 order authority to require recipients of test orders to conduct and fund the studies. The information gathered as a result of this testing will help EPA deepen its understanding of the impacts of PFAS, including potential hazards. As the agency learns more about the impacts of PFAS, EPA will continue to take action to protect human health and the environment,” according to the agency.

As far as human testing goes, the EPA is not conducting the testing that the petition requests. Instead, the agency says there are already ongoing human impact studies.

“EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts,” according to the EPA.

“The EPA asserts it is ‘granting’ the petition but in fact is deferring action on petitioners’ testing requests indefinitely,” according to the press release from the petitioners. “EPA refused to commit to requiring the studies that are most important in understanding the human health effects of long-term PFAS contamination on North Carolina communities. In fact, EPA provided no assurance that it would require cancer studies on any PFAS; refused to require an epidemiological study on the exposed human population; and declined to require testing of any of the mixtures of PFAS found in drinking water and human blood.”

The EPA also listed a summary of the order which is listed below:

  • “Near-Term Testing Covers 30 of 54 Petition Chemicals – EPA’s first test orders for 24 data-poor categories of PFAS under the Testing Strategy will provide data that cover 30 of the 54 petition chemicals.
  • Subsequent Testing May Cover 9 of 54 Petition Chemicals – An additional 9 PFAS identified in the petition belong to one other category included in the Testing Strategy. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
  • Remaining 15 of 54 Petition Chemicals – Fifteen chemicals identified in the petition do not fit the definition of PFAS used in developing the Testing Strategy. EPA has determined that there is robust data on some of them available to the Agency. EPA is conducting more in-depth analyses of the sufficiency of the existing data, which will inform later phases of testing.
  • Mixtures studies – EPA will address PFAS mixtures by using the toxicity of the individual substances to predict the toxicity of the mixture, an approach which is consistent with the current state-of-science on PFAS. EPA is proceeding with development and peer review of such methods as specifically applied to PFAS.
  • Human studies – EPA is contributing to and reviewing numerous existing ongoing human studies, including studies on potentially exposed workers and communities in North Carolina, and is evaluating how to further advance and expand on these efforts.
  • Analytical standards – EPA does not believe it is appropriate to require the development or submission of analytical standards with the initial test orders that will be issued under the Testing Strategy, but has requested comment on whether to require the submission of existing analytical methods for PFAS under a separate rulemaking proceeding the Agency expects to finalize next year.”

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