A proposed federal rule calls for forcing companies to disclose whether their products contain toxic “endless” chemicals, the government’s first attempt to catalog the spread of PFAS across the United States. United States.
The Environmental Protection Agency rule will require manufacturers to report many products that contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are a family of chemicals that are harmless to the environment and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and hormone irregularities.
Companies must disclose any PFAS produced or imported between 2011 and when the rule took effect, with no exceptions for small businesses or for pollutants or products that cross- contaminating substances with PFAS. Those disclosures will be publicly available, barring any trade secrets associated with the data. The EPA will finalize the rule in the coming months, agency spokeswoman Catherine Milbourn said, then require companies to report back within 12 months.
The effort does not include pesticides, foods and food additives, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices that are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Milbourn said. It’s also a one-time reporting and record-keeping requirement—and companies don’t have to provide updates.
However, the chemical and semiconductor industries grumbled about what the EPA estimated would be a potential $1 billion cost to comply with the rule. The US chemical industry says it generates more than $500 billion annually.
On the other hand, environmental health activists say the data collection exercise may be flawed, as it accounts for only a tenth of the more than 12,000 PFAS chemicals, used in everything from nonstick cookware to children’s school uniforms. Furthermore, they say, it will not prevent PFAS from escaping into the air, waste, or consumer products, nor will it clean up existing contamination.
Congress gave the EPA the power to track PFAS chemicals in 2016, when it revised the Toxic Substances Control Act. Then a bipartisan effort in 2019, signed into law by President Donald Trump, called on the EPA to inventory PFAS. However, health activists warn that unless Congress overhauls US chemical laws to give the EPA and other agencies more power, PFAS will continue to threaten people and the environment.
These so-called forever chemicals went from wonder to bête noire in just 50 years. When PFAS debuted, they were revered for making Teflon pans nonstick and Gore-Tex jackets waterproof. They are effective at repelling water and oil but are durable enough to not break down in the natural environment. That energy became their downfall, as the chemicals accumulated in landfills, soil, drinking water supplies, and, ultimately, human bodies. While scientists are still learning about the toxic nature of PFAS, governments around the world have set limits or imposed outright bans.
Because PFAS are found in thousands of products — contact lenses, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals like Prozac, paper plates, clothing, and dental floss, to name just a few — regulators are scrambling. to collect data on the extent of the PFAS threat. EPA’s data collection proposal is a step in that direction.
Milbourn told KFF Health News that 1,364 types of PFAS would be covered by the rule, and EPA officials are reviewing the public comments they received to determine if they should change its scope to remove the additional components.
In contrast, the European Union is talking about banning or limiting 10,000 PFAS chemicals, according to Hanna-Kaisa Torkkeli, a spokeswoman for the European Chemicals Agency.
“In the US, chemicals are innocent until proven guilty,” said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit based outside Washington, D.C. “In EU and Japan, chemicals are guilty until proven safe—and that’s why they contain less PFAS.”
That lack of regulation in the US has pushed states to take matters into their own hands, pursuing PFAS bans as gridlock and industry lobbying in Washington prevent tougher laws on federal. Minnesota’s crackdown on PFAS limits the chemicals in menstrual products, cleaning ingredients, cookware, and dental floss. Maine’s law will ban all avoidable use of PFAS by 2030. Vermont and California have banned PFAS in food packaging.
“States are taking action because our federal system doesn’t currently allow the government to say ‘no more PFAS use,'” said Liz Hitchcock, federal policy program director at Toxic-Free Future, a national advocacy group. “And even if it did, that wouldn’t clean up the mess that’s already been made.”
US courts have also weighed in on PFAS contamination. On June 22, 3M agreed to pay up to $12.5 billion to settle lawsuits by communities across the country who argued their drinking water was contaminated by the company’s PFAS-containing products.
In addition, the US military is moving to limit PFAS, after a report said more than 600,000 troops were exposed to toxic chemicals in drinking water contaminated with mostly PFAS. of firefighting foam.
Just cleaning up PFAS waste at US military bases could cost at least $10 billion. Removing it from US drinking water supplies could add more than $3.2 billion annually to the bill, according to a report commissioned by the American Water Works Association.
“The CDC estimates that 99% of Americans have PFAS in their blood,” said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that researches ingredients in household products and consumers. “We estimate that 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in their drinking water today.”
US Geological Survey officials released a similar finding on July 5 when they announced that agency researchers estimate that more than 45% of US tap water is contaminated with at least one PFAS chemical after conducting they are a national study of water samples.
As ubiquitous as PFAS are, the reason they haven’t generated more public outrage may be that the damage from PFAS chemicals isn’t immediate. It affects health over time, with repeated exposure.
“People don’t get headaches or coughs from PFAS exposure,” Bennett said. “But they get cancer a few years down the line—and they don’t understand why.”
Some environmental health advocates, such as Arthur Bowman III, director of policy at the Center for Environmental Health, say the EPA’s data collection project is helpful. “It would be fairly straightforward for the EPA to gather information on PFAS on cleaning products and other wet chemicals that contain PFAS,” Bowman said. “And this will lead to the phaseout of PFAS.”
Some retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI, have recently announced plans to remove the chemicals from many of their products.
But Bowman said it will be more difficult for manufacturers to remove PFAS used to make semiconductor chips and printed circuit boards, because alternative products are still in the research stage.
The Semiconductor Industry Association asked the EPA for an exemption from the proposed reporting requirements because, it continued, semiconductor manufacturing is so complex that it is “impossible, even with an unlimited amount of time and resources, to know -an presence (if any). ) of PFAS in such articles.” Some industries also ask for a waiver.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents many PFAS manufacturers such as 3M, disagrees with calls to ban the entire class of PFAS chemicals. “Individual chemicals have their own unique properties and uses, as well as environmental and health profiles,” said Tom Flanagin, a spokesman for the trade group.
While council member companies “support strong, science-based regulations on PFAS chemicals that protect human health and the environment,” Flanagin said, the rules should not harm economic growth. or prevent businesses and consumers from accessing the products they need.”
For their part, some environmental advocates welcomed the report’s proposal, expecting it to reveal new and surprising uses of PFAS. “However, this may be a snapshot,” said Sonya Lunder, the senior toxics policy adviser for the Sierra Club.
Lunder said that even if PFAS were found in, for example, brands of baby bibs, pesticide containers, or pet food bags, it was unclear which federal agency would regulate the products. He said Americans should demand that Congress add PFAS and other harmful chemicals to all major environmental laws for water, air, food, and consumer products.
And another concern: Once the data makes it into the mainstream, will consumers simply tune it out — as many have done with California’s many cancer warning signs? Lunder doesn’t think so, because “the audience is scientists, regulators, and—for better or worse—tort lawyers.”
Benesh, of the Environmental Working Group, said the disclosures could reach further and “encourage consumers to demand more change in the marketplace.”
2023 Kaiser Health News.
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Citation: Proposed PFAS rule will cost companies an estimated $1B; Lacks limits and cleanup requirements (2023, July 19) retrieved 19 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-pfas-companies-1b-lacks-limits.html
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