EPA Might Finally Regulate PFAS But the Process Matters
By Genna Reed
The EPA announced last week that it is issuing a preliminary regulatory determination for public comment to set an enforceable drinking water standard to two of the most common and well-studied PFAS, PFOA and PFOS.
This decision is based on three criteria:
- PFOA and PFOS have an adverse effect on public health
- PFOA and PFOS occur in drinking water often enough and at levels of public health concern;
- regulation of PFOA and PFOS is a meaningful opportunity for reducing the health risk to those served by public water systems.
This is a good thing and should have happened sooner, but likely as a result of public pressure and the overwhelming evidence of harms caused by exposure to these chemicals, the EPA is officially embarking upon this long and arduous regulatory process with an uncertain outcome.
The process of setting such a standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is a long one and we know that there are multiple decision points at which political interference, lack of transparency, or a failure to recognize the best available science can undermine such a process. If the EPA successfully sets a standard, it will mean that utilities will be required to monitor drinking water for PFOS and PFOA and use treatment techniques to keep levels below the standard, which will be especially helpful for communities in states that haven't set their own MCLs.
Here are some things to keep in mind and look out for as EPA begins its process to regulate PFAS in drinking water:
The SDWA Process Is Flawed
The Safe Drinking Water Act was signed into law by President Ford in 1974 and sets a regulatory process for setting drinking water standards. Then in 1996, Congress issued amendments which created a long list of hurdles that weakened EPA's ability to set health-protective standards for water contaminants. Some requirements include technology assessments and risk assessments that require the agency to state each significant uncertainty related to public health effects.
The amendments also require EPA to conduct a cost benefit analysis, which can weigh into the standard that is selected. In fact, EPA can choose to set a standard that "maximizes health risk reduction benefits at a cost that is justified by the benefits." As in all environmental and public health policy, it is much harder to quantify benefits to public health than it is to quantify costs to industry which makes this a natural place for industry to fight hard to document potential costs and advocate for a less stringent standard. A cost benefit analysis also opens up these regulations to more intense scrutiny from the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs which has been known to delay rules or even make substantive changes to the scientific basis of regulations all without adequate transparency.
The Trump Administration’s Track Record on Science-Based Protections Speaks Volumes
Generally, it's hard to have faith in the Trump Administration's EPA which leads all other government agencies in the count of attacks on science and has made decisions that benefit industry over public health time and time again. We've also witnessed the EPA recently drop the ball on a drinking water decision.
A long-awaited proposed MCL for perchlorate was issued in summer 2019 after beginning the regulatory process in 2011. The level was over three times less protective than its health advisory set in 2008 and out of sync with its own analysis published in 2016 and the conclusion of a peer review panel convened in 2018 to review that report. So what went wrong?
After layers of scientific input, including the development of a model to quantify the relationship between perchlorate and fetal brain development that was reviewed by SAB and went through public comments, the agency dismissed key studies using inadequate rationales and set a less health-protective standard. As the SDWA requires the agency to use the "best available, peer-reviewed science and supporting studies conducted in accordance with sound and objective scientific practices; and data collected by accepted methods or best available methods," Administrator Wheeler's EPA, closely advised by former industry representatives will be deciding what acceptable science and methods are.
Integrity of Science Advice and Peer Review Processes Must Be Upheld
Advisory committees and independent peer review bodies should be employed by the EPA to provide objective checks on the work of the agency that are open and accessible to the public. But changes recently made to the EPA's Science Advisory Board including skewing membership toward industry and consultants, holding fewer meetings or delaying important meetings and key decisions, moving away from consensus-based reviews, and exerting more control from the administrator and chair suggest that future advisory committee proceedings related to examining the best available science on PFAS may not be the kind of independent science advice process we'd like to see.
Upcoming Changes to Restrict Science and to Alter Cost Benefit Analysis Could Make Things Worse
The EPA's so-called 'transparency' rule, the supplemental piece of which could be released any day now, would require underlying data to be made public would severely limit the agency's ability to use much of the human health data that has been accumulating since PFOA and PFOS have been studied, thus hindering EPA's ability to designate a strong maximum contaminant level. Over two dozen human health studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals since a settlement agreement was reached in a lawsuit against the maker of PFOA, DuPont, and people living near DuPont's West Virginia Washington Works Plant.
The studies rely on interviews, questionnaires, and blood samples from 69,000 individuals and examine links between C8 exposure and a variety of diseases and health outcomes. Because the information collected by researchers for these studies includes sensitive and private information of participants, it would not be possible to make the underlying data public in order to comply with EPA's proposed rule. This means that some of the best available science identifying probable links between PFAS and diseases such as thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, and diagnosed high cholesterol could be left out of any future EPA decisions made on these chemicals. As a result, health decisions made on this class of chemicals would be wholly inadequate to protect exposed populations.
The agency is also considering changing how it conducts cost benefit analysis for regulations such as the SDWA, which threatens to tilt the scales toward reducing industry costs over maximizing societal and public health benefits.
PFOA and PFOS Are the Tip of the (Seemingly Endless) Fluorocarbon Chain
While the EPA is asking for more information on other PFAS substances, the agency's decision to add PFOA and PFOS to the Contaminant Candidate List leaves the hundreds of variations of PFAS that have been manufactured as replacements to PFOA and PFOS, including short-chain PFAS chemicals, in regulatory limbo. We know that PFOA and PFOS are only two of the many highly fluorinated chemicals contaminating our drinking water. A recent EWG analysis tested drinking water across the country for 30 different PFAS chemicals and found that on average, each sample had six or seven different compounds present.
This "fingerprint" of PFAS mixtures is commonly found near industrial and military contamination sites. Industry's path of regrettable substitutions has set our government up for a scenario of perpetual regulatory catch-up. The agency needs to follow the science showing that the class of highly-fluorinated chemicals are persistent and bioaccumulative because of the chemical structure inherent in each variety. Failure to do so will give us a wholly inadequate picture of PFAS contamination and leave many communities to deal with PFAS contamination without federal support.
States Should Continue to Lead
As EPA sets out on this potentially decades-long process that may or may not yield a protective standard, communities across the country are dealing with PFAS contamination now. States are acting to help regulate these chemicals and are making amazing progress. Congress has also stepped up and gotten some key PFAS-related provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act and introduced as a part of the PFAS Action Act, like labeling PFAS as hazardous substances so that manufacturers are responsible for paying to clean up contamination.
We need our government to do everything it can to stop PFAS contamination and exposure from wreaking havoc in communities across the country. And we need to make sure that scientific integrity is upheld as it makes key regulatory decisions so that our kids and future generations will be safe from the health risks associated with these toxic chemicals.
Genna Reed is a lead science and policy analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Reposted with permission from Union of Concerned Scientists.
America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
- Trump Admin Proposes Drilling for Oil in National Forests - EcoWatch ›
- Forest Service Wants to Fast-Track Logging Without Environmental ... ›
- Trump Admin Moves Closer to Slashing Protections for World's ... ›
- Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Log in America's Largest ... ›
- Trump Moves to Open 16.7 Million Acre Alaskan Rainforest to ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan
Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
Pandemic Stalls Protests<p>Last November, the head of the UN Environment Program was among the public and scientific figures to warn that 2020 offered a last chance to cut emissions. Then, few could have suspected this deadline would coincide with an unprecedented public health emergency.</p><p>The pandemic has <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/tough-times-ahead-for-climate-protesters-during-corona-pandemic/a-52978469" target="_blank">dealt climate activism a blow</a>. Niedeggen says that as a movement demanding that the world act on scientific advice, the school strikers took lockdown restrictions extremely seriously, halted public protests immediately and took their activism online.</p><p>On April 24, Fridays for Future organized a "digital strike," with Niedeggen hosting a that racked up close to a quarter of a million views. "We were not physically standing together, but we were all fighting together," she says.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-strikers-get-inventive-during-the-covid-19-crisis-fridays-for-future/a-53229262" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Activists also gathered thousands of placards</a> from across Germany to lay out in front of the German Bundestag around the central slogan: "Fight every crisis."</p>
Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
Policy 'Not Quite There Yet'<p>Figures on stimulus spending do not suggest their words had much impact. The ministers were criticized for failing to relieve the debt of poorer countries, and according to <a href="https://www.energypolicytracker.org/region/g20/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy Tracker</a>, G20 countries by August had pledged $169 billion (142 billion euros) to fossil fuels since the beginning of the pandemic.</p><p>Katrin Uba, associate professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, is researching Fridays for Future. She says that despite the movement raising awareness and gaining access to policymakers, real policy change "is not there yet."</p><p>Still, she stresses that social movements go through waves of mobilization as public attention on their core issues ebbs and flows. And perhaps one of Fridays for Future's biggest achievements is birthing a politically active generation that will keep the fight up long after corona becomes a memory. </p><p>"We know clearly from our research that many of the people who came to the streets hadn't done any protesting before in their lives," she told DW. "And we also know that if you do one protest, you are likely to do more."</p>
- 60,000-Strong Fridays for Future Protest in Hamburg, Germany ... ›
- 7.6 Million Join Week of Global Climate Strikes - EcoWatch ›
- Greta Thunberg Kicks Off Third Year of Fridays for Future Protests ... ›
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25</strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."<br><br>It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube at 2 p.m. EDT Friday in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.<br></p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks - EcoWatch ›
The world's largest online retailer is making it slightly easier for customer to make eco-conscious choices.
- Employees Are Fighting for Climate Change at Work - EcoWatch ›
- Amazon's Carbon Footprint Rises 15% as Company Invests $2 ... ›
- Jeff Bezos Pledges $10 Billion to Fight the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Budweiser Re-Labels As Climate-Friendly Beer - EcoWatch ›
The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a risk assessment for toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos Tuesday that downplayed its effects on children's brains and may be the first indication of how the administration's "secret science" policy could impact public health.
- Democratic Bill Banning Toxic Pesticides Applauded as 'Much ... ›
- Trump EPA Won't Regulate Toxic Drinking Water Chemical That ... ›
- California, Nation's Top User of Chlorpyrifos, Announces Ban on ... ›
- Wheeler's EPA Keeps Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos in Food ›
- Entire Pesticide Class Must Be Banned to Save Children's Health ... ›