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.
The SDWA Process Is Flawed<p>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 <a href="https://www.congress.gov/104/plaws/publ182/PLAW-104publ182.pdf" target="_blank">issued amendments</a> which created a <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/erik-d-olson/broken-safe-drinking-water-act-wont-fix-pfas-crisis" target="_blank">long list of hurdles</a> 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. </p><p>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 <a href="https://law.lclark.edu/live/files/27944-49-1sinden-1pdf" target="_blank">much harder to quantify benefits</a> 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 <a href="https://www.citizen.org/wp-content/uploads/oira-delays-regulatory-reform-report.pdf" target="_blank">delay rules</a> or even make substantive changes to the <a href="https://www.acus.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Science%20in%20Regulation_Final%20Report_2_18_13_0.pdf" target="_blank">scientific basis of regulations</a> all without adequate transparency.</p>
The Trump Administration’s Track Record on Science-Based Protections Speaks Volumes<p>Generally, it's hard to have faith in the Trump Administration's EPA which leads all other government agencies in the count of <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank">attacks on science </a>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. </p><p>A long-awaited proposed MCL for perchlorate was issued in summer 2019 after beginning the regulatory process in 2011. The <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/health/2019/05/24/epa-distorts-evidence-fails-kids-perchlorate/" target="_blank">level was over three times less protective</a> 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? </p><p>After <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/health/2019/05/07/epas-safety-standard-perchlorate-water-kids-health/" target="_blank">layers of scientific input</a>, 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.</p>
Integrity of Science Advice and Peer Review Processes Must Be Upheld<p>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 <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/independent-science-takes-another-hit-at-the-epa-new-science-advisory-board-members-announced" target="_blank">skewing membership toward industry</a> and consultants, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/epas-scientific-advisers-warn-its-regulatory-rollbacks-clash-with-established-science/2019/12/31/a1994f5a-227b-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html" target="_blank">holding fewer meetings</a> or delaying important meetings and key decisions, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/epa-might-be-using-its-advisors-to-do-away-with-protective-science-guidelines" target="_blank">moving away from consensus-based reviews</a>, and <a href="https://www.eenews.net/greenwire/stories/1061775673/" target="_blank">exerting more control</a> 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.</p>
Upcoming Changes to Restrict Science and to Alter Cost Benefit Analysis Could Make Things Worse<p>The EPA's so-called 'transparency' rule, the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/michael-halpern/epa-proposal-handcuff-scientists" target="_blank">supplemental piece of which</a> 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. </p><p><span></span><a href="http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/panel.html" target="_blank">The studies</a> 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 <a href="https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/12/ehp.0800379.pdf" target="_blank">sensitive and private information</a> 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.</p><p>The agency is also <a href="https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2018-06-13/pdf/2018-12707.pdf" target="_blank">considering changing</a> 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.</p>
PFOA and PFOS Are the Tip of the (Seemingly Endless) Fluorocarbon Chain<p>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 <a href="https://www.ewg.org/research/national-pfas-testing/?utm_campaign=EWG+Content&utm_content=1579634672&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=facebook" target="_blank">EWG analysis</a> 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. </p><p>This "fingerprint" of PFAS mixtures is commonly found near <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es070792y" target="_blank">industrial</a> and <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b05843" target="_blank">military</a> 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.</p>
States Should Continue to Lead<p>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. <a href="https://news.bloombergenvironment.com/environment-and-energy/nearly-half-the-country-working-on-pfas-rules-as-epa-drags-feet" target="_blank">States are acting</a> 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 <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/congress-misses-the-mark-on-pfas-in-the-ndaa" target="_blank">National Defense Authorization Act</a> and introduced as a part of the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/profiles-in-cowardice-chemicals-climate-and-a-toxic-disregard-by-the-trump-administration" target="_blank">PFAS Action Act,</a> like labeling PFAS as hazardous substances so that <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/why-the-pfas-industry-should-ditch-the-disinformation-playbook-and-do-the-right-thing" target="_blank">manufacturers are responsible for paying to clean up contamination</a>.</p><p>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 <a href="https://ucsusa.org/resources/endangering-generations" target="_blank">our kids and future generations</a> will be safe from the health risks associated with these toxic chemicals.</p>
Broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, we are joined by three guests who personally battled with DuPont and are featured in the new documentary called "The Devil We Know," that looks at how former DuPont employees, residents and lawyers took on the chemical giant to expose the danger of the chemical C8, found in Teflon and countless household products—from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. The chemical has now been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Study Suggests Teflon Phaseout Has Prevented Thousands of Low-Weight Births, Saved Billions in Health Care Costs
By Bill Walker
The phaseout of a hazardous chemical formerly used to make Teflon has likely prevented thousands of low-weight births in the U.S. each year, saving billions of dollars in health care costs, according to a new study from researchers at New York University.
The overall number of American babies born underweight has been rising. But low-weight births that the researchers specifically attributed to the Teflon chemical exposure have declined by more than 10,000 a year since the phaseout began, according to the analysis published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.
Arkansas, which temporarily banned the highly volatile weedkiller in July, could now face legal action from Monsanto, the developers of dicamba-resistant soybeans or cotton and the corresponding pesticide, aka the Xtend crop system.
The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.
The Arkansas Dicamba Task Force has recommended a cut-off date for the use of the highly drift-prone and volatile herbicide by next April 15 for the 2018 season.
Complaints of crop damage from the powerful and volatile weedkiller dicamba have increased rapidly around the country.
According to weed scientist and University of Missouri associate professor Kevin Bradley, 17 state governments are investigating more than 1,400 official complaints of dicamba-related injuries this year covering 2.5 million acres.
Thirteen Louisiana residents who live in the shadow of one of the most toxic factories in the country recently filed a lawsuit against the facility's co-owners, DuPont and Denka, in an attempt to stop or reduce the production of an air pollutant linked to serious health problems, including cancer.
The plaintiffs are currently seeking approval from a local judge to file a class action lawsuit that would allow anyone who has lived, worked or attended school within a defined boundary around the plant over the past five years to take legal action against the plant's owners.
By Josh Gay
In February, DuPont and its spinoff Chemours finally agreed to pay out the $670+ million settlement stemming from their toxic chemical Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), commonly known as C8. The chemical was shown to cause kidney, pancreatic, liver and testicular cancer, high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), pregnancy issues, including preeclampsia, thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis in thousands of cases.
One of the main concerns of the anti-GMO crowd is the supposed outsized influence that the biotech industry has over academia, science and public policy. For instance, you might have heard of the term "Monsanto shill"—which refer to professors, scientists and politicians who are paid to push certain products.
13 Academics Who Are Shills for Corporate Giants https://t.co/3ccg4ReKcB #BigOil #BigFood @NRDC @sierraclub @food_democracy @Greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473704917.0
Now, a new study published in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal PLOS ONE gives more credence to the anti-GMO concern.
French researchers have determined that financial conflicts of interest can be found in a large number of published articles on GMO crops. Significantly, if a conflict of interest was determined, the study's outcome tended to be more favorable to the company that funded it.
For the study, the research team combed through hundreds of published articles focusing on the efficacy or durability of genetically modified Bt crops and any ties that the researchers carrying out the study had with the biotech industry. These articles focused on GM maize and cotton developed by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Pioneer. Such crops have been inserted with a pest-resistant toxin called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
A conflict of interest was determined if an author declared an affiliation to one of the biotech companies or received funding or payment from them.
"We found that ties between researchers and the GM crop industry were common, with 40 percent of the articles considered displaying conflicts of interest (COI)," the study states. "In particular, we found that, compared to the absence of COI, the presence of a COI was associated with a 50 percent higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GM crop company."
This means that conflicts of interests are not only pervasive in GMO research, it could be leaving an impact.
Thomas Guillemaud, lead author and director of research at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, told AFP that he and his team found 579 articles that clearly indicated if there was or was not any financial conflict of interest.
Of the 350 articles without conflicts of interest, 36 percent were favorable to GM crop companies. However, of the 229 studies with a conflict of interest, 54 percent were favorable to GM companies.
Monsanto Shareholders Approve Bayer Merger to Form World's Largest Seed and Chemical Company https://t.co/2cEeaJjiZt @GMOFreeUSA @GMOTruth— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481756711.0
However, the authors admitted their study had some limitations:
"First, we explored only two characteristics of Bt crops: efficacy and durability. Other characteristics and consequences of these transgenic plants, including all those relating to the environment (e.g. the impact of Bt crops on non-target insects) or health, merit a similar analysis."
"Second, as we used the addresses of authors to identify their affiliations, only one type of affiliation, that relating to employment, was considered. However, authors may have affiliations to GM crop companies of other types, such as being members of advisory boards, consultants, or co-holders of patents, and this could also have a significant impact on the outcomes of studies on GM crops. We did not consider these affiliations as they are not usually reported in articles (COI statements became obligatory in some journals only recently and, as revealed here, they remain very rare). The consideration of other types of affiliation would require a survey that would be difficult to perform given that more than 1,500 authors were considered in this study.
"Third, we have considered only the links between authors and GM crop companies. Other stakeholders (e.g. Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project, The Organic Consumers Association, The Network of European GMO-free Regions) oppose GM crop companies in being openly against the use of GM crops. An inverse relationship might therefore be expected between the outcomes of studies on GM crops and the presence of COIs relating to these stakeholders. We were unable to test this hypothesis because we identified no financial interests connected with anti-GMO stakeholders, in terms of the professional affiliation of the authors or their declared funding sources.
"Finally, this study focused exclusively on financial COIs. Non-financial COIs, also known as intrinsic or intellectual COI—due to personal, political, academic, ideological, or religious interests—might also have a significant impact on the outcomes of research studies. It is difficult to decipher intellectual COIs and, as for the detection of non-professional affiliations with GM crop companies, it would be a major challenge to perform such an analysis given the large number of authors considered."
But as Guillemaud noted to AFP, "The most important point was how we also showed there is a statistical link between the presence of conflicts of interest and a study that comes to a favorable conclusion for GMO crops."
"When studies had a conflict of interest, this raised the likelihood 49 percent that their conclusions would be favorable to GMO crops," he added. "We thought we would find conflicts of interest, but we did not think we would find so many."
Chemical company Dupont Co. will pay Virginia a stunning $50 million to clean up decades of mercury pollution. The proposed settlement is the largest natural resource settlement in the state's history and the eighth largest in the nation, state and federal officials said.
"Today's settlement, the largest of its kind in Virginia history, is the culmination of a coordinated effort by countless partners at both the state and federal level," Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement. "Thanks to their hard work, Virginians and the environment will benefit from unprecedented investments in land conservation and habitat restoration. I applaud and appreciate the meticulous monitoring by our state agencies, the thorough analysis of the scientific advisory committee, and DuPont's willingness to come to the table and make this happen."
"[The settlement] ranks 8th in all of time of natural resource damage settlements across the country ... and that includes such big cases like Deep Water Horizon and Exxon Valdez," Paul Phifer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services said, according to the Associated Press.
The case dates back several decades when a former DuPont factory outside the city of Waynesboro leaked mercury—a chemical used for the plant's rayon production—into the South River
from 1929 to 1950. The pollution was finally discovered in the 1970s and DuPont has worked with federal and state officials on cleanup solutions over the years.
Still, the mercury remains persistent and has been difficult to remove. The South River is one of the area's leading tributaries so any contamination eventually flows into the Shenandoah River. According to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, the South River Science Team found that South River and South Fork Shenandoah River fish continue to have elevated mercury concentrations some 60 years later after the DuPont plant ceased production.
Mercury is highly toxic and can travel up the food chain and can have a whole host of terrifying problems for aquatic life and humans alike. Fish consumption advisories in affected areas are in place to this day.
Alarming Levels of Mercury Contamination Found Across Western North America https://t.co/Eeb88jsjPg @Waterkeeper @foodandwater— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474412707.0
"Over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat were impacted from the mercury," the Department of Justice said in a statement. "Some of the assessed and impacted natural resources include fish, migratory songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Recreational fishing opportunities were also impacted from the mercury."
NBC29 notes that the historic settlement would go towards wildlife habitat restoration, water quality enhancement and improvements to recreational areas.
"DuPont has agreed to provide $42.3 million in support of restoration projects in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah watersheds. The trustees will use these funds for a number of restoration projects to enhance natural resources in the region," Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, said in a statement.
"In keeping with its long history of cooperation with, and participation in, government initiatives, and its ongoing support of the local community, DuPont's is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens," Liberati continued.
The trustees, through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commonwealth of Virginia, invite feedback on actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat and improve public lands and recreational resources. A draft restoration plan and environmental assessment (RP/EA) was also released today for a 45-day public comment period. The plan results from stakeholder meetings beginning in 2008 to determine how best to compensate the public for the injured natural resources and their uses.