For Immediate Release: Mar 27, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
PFAS Use in U.S. Skyrockets
EPA Not Stemming Massive Introductions of “Short-Chain” PFAS Chemicals
Washington, DC — Despite growing evidence of the serious health and environmental harms of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively called PFAS, the number of new short-chain and other PFAS chemicals produced and imported in the U.S. is approaching new records, according to official figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Widely used in fire retardants, repellents, furniture, take-out containers and non-stick cookware, among many other applications, PFAS do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in the food chain. This class of chemicals is often referred to as “forever chemicals.” PFAS are associated with birth defects, developmental damage to infants, the liver, kidneys, and immune system, as well as a cancer risk. According to new research from Harvard University, more than 16 million Americans drink water contaminated with PFAS.
Because of their toxicity and bio-persistence, industry voluntarily agreed to begin phasing out one version of the chemical, PFOS, in 2002 and to phase out another, PFOA, by 2015. However, industry immediately began replacing PFOA and PFOS with new unregulated short-chain PFAS chemicals (a slight variation of chemical formula) and continue to do so at a high rate.
Data from EPA’s Chemical Data Reporting database and analyzed by PEER shows that the number of new PFAS chemicals produced in volumes in excess of 25,000 pounds a site per year increased by 30 from 2012 to 2016. The data shows that there are now 118 PFAS chemicals made or imported in very large quantities, compared with just 76 in 2002.
“This rapid rate of PFAS substitution makes it impossible for public health agencies to keep up with toxicology assessments in time to protect the public,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney who formerly worked for EPA. “EPA lacks a coherent plan for keeping these chemicals out of our environment, our drinking water, or our bloodstreams.”
Last month shortly before his confirmation, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler offered a PFAS “Action Plan” that offers no concrete commitments for action. The agency presently relies on a non-enforceable lifetime health advisory for exposure only to PFOA and PFOS (the two chemicals already being phased out) of 70 parts per trillion. Experts have repeatedly stated they believe the threshold for these chemicals should be much lower.
EPA claims to have regulatory authority to stop new uses of PFAS following a risk determination but apparently has not done so as PFAS use is ratcheting up sharply.
In light of this new data, PEER is calling on Congress to enact a moratorium on the manufacture and importation of new PFAS chemicals until there is sufficient scientific information on the toxic effects of these short-chain chemicals on humans and their persistence in the environment. In addition, the group urges Congress to require industries that manufacture or use these short-chain chemicals to contribute to a research fund for human health risk assessment by expert toxicologists without ties to those industries.
“It is clear that EPA has no handle on this mounting chemical crisis,” said Bennett, pointing out that EPA has been largely relying on industry-funded science on the chemicals. “Congress needs to step in and tell EPA to hit the pause button and to require industry to fund human health studies conducted by experts not on industry payrolls.”