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'Absolutely Unconscionable': Trump EPA Refuses to Limit Toxic Chemicals Contaminating Drinking Water

Health + Wellness
Under the Trump administration, the EPA will decline to regulate a pair of toxic chemicals linked to various forms of cancer. EPA

By Jessica Corbett

In a decision deemed by critics unsurprising but also "absolutely unconscionable," the Trump administration's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reportedly plans to refrain from regulating a pair of toxic chemicals linked to kidney and testicular cancer, even though they are contaminating millions of Americans' drinking water.

Sources familiar with an unreleased draft plan approved last month by acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Politico that the chemicals PFOA and PFOS will remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning that "utilities will face no federal requirements for testing for and removing the chemicals from drinking water supplies, although several states have pursued or are pursuing their own limits."


The chemicals "have been used for decades in products such as Teflon-coated cookware and military firefighting foam, and are present in the bloodstreams of an estimated 98 percent of Americans," Politico pointed out. That means, given that they have "contaminated groundwater near hundreds of military bases and chemical plants," any intensive regulation of them would force companies such as 3M as well as the Defense Department to spend billions of dollars on cleanup efforts.

"If these sources are right, the EPA is essentially telling the more than 110 million Americans whose water is likely contaminated with PFAS: 'Drink up, folks,'" warned Environmental Working Group senior scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. "The most efficient and equitable way to remove these chemicals from the nation's drinking water supply is to use the agency's authority to set legal limits ... It's a national problem, and it needs a national solution."

"It is absolutely unconscionable for the Trump administration to refuse to even start the process of setting a limit on these poisonous chemicals," declared Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Communities around the country need swift, meaningful action from the government. Punting responsibility to the private sector and states is a total abdication of EPA's role in protecting the American people."

"Sadly, it's no surprise the Trump administration is failing to protect Americans from these dangerous chemicals," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement.

"It's time for state governments and Congress to step up, since it's obvious we can't rely on Andrew Wheeler and Trump's EPA to protect us from dangerous chemicals in our drinking water," she added, calling on federal lawmakers to enact the Water Accountability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act.

"More than ever, we need strong federal legislation to protect drinking water," Hauter said. The WATER Act "would upgrade our aging infrastructure and help keep vital water systems under local public control. But it would also provide funding to help keep drinking water safe from toxins like PFOA and PFOS, in spite of this administration's failure to act."

The news out of the EPA on Monday came after the agency and White House blocked the release of a federal study on PFOA and PFOS last year over concerns that it would produce a "public relations nightmare." The move was widely condemned by public health experts, reporters, and American lawmakers, with critics charging that then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was "more worried about journalists than poisoning millions of Americans."

Noting that decision and, more broadly, the federal government's failures to protect the American public from industry pollution during the Trump era, Hauter concluded, "This administration prioritizes corporate profits over public safety, pure and simple."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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