Oakland, October 18, 2021 — The PFAS footprint across California and the U.S. may be several times larger than previously reported, according to data released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that some 120,000 facilities “may be handling” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including around 13,000 in California. These numbers carry troubling implications for prospects for controlling this toxic chemical’s spread.
PFAS are associated with damage to the liver and kidneys, as well as heightened risk of testicular and kidney cancer. Because they do not break down in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans and the food chain they are called “Forever Chemicals.”
The EPA figures indicate that California trails only Colorado in the number of potential sites involving PFAS manufacture, import, handling, or storage and hosts more than 10% of the national total. The EPA site data for California also show that these listed facilities –
- Are concentrated in areas with more than 25% minority residents, with nearly three-quarters (73%) located within three miles of these communities;
- Are predominately industries with waste management, electronics, metal coating, and chemical manufacturing, in that order, being the most prevalent; and
- Include nearly one thousand facilities with a history of environmental violations.
“These figures suggest that the scale of potential PFAS contamination in California is much greater than previously known,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, who obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act. “Unfortunately, the data also indicate that EPA has a very shaky grasp on who is using which chemicals and in what volumes.”
Much of this data gap springs from the fact that mandatory reporting is limited to industries producing or importing more than 10,000 pounds at any site in any year. Industries simply using PFAS, in any quantity, are not required to report. Further, many industries may not know if they are handling PFAS or using ingredients, products, or machinery that contain PFAS.
Compounding the fragmentary nature of the data is the rapid increase in the number of Confidential Information Business (CBI) claims from companies. CBI is broadly defined as proprietary information that a company claims could cause substantial business injury to the owner if released. EPA allows PFAS manufacturers and importers to claim as CBI information the company name, the parent company, the site address, and even the state and zip code. Nor does EPA report any data on PFAS where the chemical name itself is claimed as CBI.
“This level of corporate secrecy means that emergency responders, health departments, and state regulators often do not know what toxic chemicals are being produced and used in their communities,” added Ruch, noting that there are more than 9,000 types of PFAS and almost none are subject to any regulation. “Safeguards against exposure require a much firmer grasp on what PFAS are flowing through California’s streams of commerce than we currently have.”