The absence of any federal standards for tracking and managing wastes contaminated with per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) poses a major and growing threat to our health, water, and soil. A key cause for concern is that these so-called “forever chemicals” are toxic, do not break down in the environment, and bio-accumulate in the food chain— and in us.
There are around 500 facilities producing, importing, and discharging PFAS. PFAS are used as fire retardants and repellents, and are used in consumer products such as furniture, take out containers, and non-stick cookware, among many other applications. Human exposure to PFAS is associated with cancer, birth defects, developmental damage to infants, and impaired functioning of the liver, kidneys, and immune system.
Yet, an estimated 200 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with PFAS and the compounds have also been found in grocery store meats, milk, seafood, off-the-shelf cake mixes, as well as in wild fish and game. Studies have also found PFAS in the bloodstream of 99% of humans.
Despite the fact that the EPA knows of around 9,252 types of PFAS, the EPA has failed to set a legal limit for PFAS in drinking water, clean up existing PFAS pollution, reduce ongoing releases of PFAS, or ban PFAS from everyday products. The only action taken has been to issue a health advisory, despite the fact that there are more than 2,230 known contaminated sites. This number will surely grow as more communities begin testing. This contamination is due to, among other factors:
- Dumping of materials containing PFAS;
- PFAS leaching from landfills into groundwater, the primary source of drinking water for half the nation; and,
- Sewage sludge applied on land and as fertilizer is often contaminated with PFAS.
PEER is urging EPA to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals and to classify all forms of waste contaminated with PFAS as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) in order to safely manage the PFAS waste from the moment it is generated, while it is transported, treated or stored, until it is disposed.