Washington, DC, Sept. 19, 2019 — 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, according to a rule-making petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). 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 more than 200 facilities producing or importing tons of PFAS for use as fire retardants, repellents, furniture, take out containers, and non-stick cookware, among other applications. There are also some 3,000 to 4,000 PFAS varieties in use. Human exposure to PFAS are associated with cancer, birth defects, developmental damage to infants, and impaired functioning of the liver, kidneys, and immune system.
Yet, an estimated 100 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with PFAS and the compounds have also been found in grocery store meats, milk, seafood, and off-the-shelf cake mixes, as well as in wild fish and game. Studies have also found PFAS in the bloodstream of most American adults.
Because PFAS remains unregulated, there are more than 700 known contaminated sites and that number will surely grow as more communities begin testing. This contamination is due to, among other factors:
- Growing reports of illegal 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.
“PFAS is proliferating in a regulatory wild, wild West, where nobody has a handle on its use, storage, or disposal,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement attorney who drafted the petition. “If we are ever going to stop this toxic contamination, we need strong waste management standards.”
PEER is urging EPA 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.
Earlier this year, EPA unveiled a “PFAS Action Plan” that is extremely limited, with a narrow focus that excludes surface waters, food, and soil, while addressing only groundwater used for drinking water with no controls on PFAS import, storage, and disposal, as PEER is urging.
“This is an unfolding environmental crisis like few we have faced,” added Whitehouse. “EPA needs to stop dithering and undertake immediate action or it will be too late.”