[Op-ed] Hazardous chemicals and government silence — a dangerous mix

By Claudia Polsky, Tim Whitehouse, and Tom Bruton | The Hill | March 26, 2020

Read the full article by Claudia Polsky, Tim Whitehouse, and Tom Bruton (The Hill)

Imagine this: More than six million Americans have drinking water that is poisoned by a group of closely related chemicals. Some of the chemicals are known to cause liver and thyroid disease, immune system suppression, high cholesterol and cancer; others are the subject of suspicion and ongoing research.

Tort litigation has yielded multi-million-dollar verdicts for chemical exposure victims, prompted a documentary and a Hollywood feature film about the chemicals’ perils. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to designate waste containing the chemicals as "hazardous”— a legal status conferring crucial health and environmental benefits. 

This implausible situation is the present reality with respect to “PFAS” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), the chemicals manufactured by Dupont3M and others, to create non-stick pans, grease-resistant pizza boxes and water-repellent outdoor wear that have precipitated a nationwide contamination and human exposure crisis. While EPA has promised to establish long-overdue drinking water standards for certain PFAS, it is equally critical to regulate the chemicals under our federal waste laws, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the law commonly known as Superfund. 

That is why our organizations have petitioned the EPA to designate PFAS wastes as “hazardous” immediately and to set strict standards for their management. Our petitions describe the plight of PFAS-affected U.S. communities from east to west and in the far north. Petitioners hail from Pennsylvania (where two communities near Philadelphia link a local cancer epidemic to intensive PFAS use on nearby military bases), Michigan (where many streams and lakes have fish consumption and recreational contact advisories related to PFAS), Colorado (where 600 private drinking wells in a single community are tainted with PFAS) to Alaska (where PFAS are bioaccumulating in the traditional food animals of Native Alaskans). Petitioners also include PhD scientists versed in the toxicological properties of PFAS and environmental regulators experienced with legal regimes appropriate for PFAS management.

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