Biden administration needs to act slowly, responsibly on PFAS
The Biden administration began its tenure with a long list of executive orders rolling back actions of the previous administration. Among those mentioned as a target include an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) final rule on transparency of data used in scientific research announced earlier this month.
In addition, the EPA announced this week its intent to address per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the potential hazards it may pose due to human exposure. We also expect to see calls that would classify PFAS as hazardous materials under the federal Superfund law, opening liability for remediation to countless companies and entities. Such a move would delight the trial bar, pose devasting economic damages to the companies and their employees that make and use PFAS, and trigger an unfounded panic among Americans about their risks due to exposure.
Before initiating such regulations or rollbacks, we urge President Biden, members of Congress, state and federal regulators, and the scientific community to pay close attention to a recent Environmental Research study of 18 of the most comprehensive epidemiologic studies addressing possible links between PFAS and cancer that should influence their actions and pave the way to sound regulatory and judicial decision making.
The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that “evidence of an association between exposure to PFAS compounds and cancer is sparse.” It reviewed the existing evidence of a correlation between PFAS exposure and cancer to identify the types of study designs that have been most useful, and to determine which kinds of future research would be the most likely to “meaningfully increase knowledge.” Scientists found strengths and weaknesses embedded in the design of each study. According to the CDC analysis, “Weaknesses in study design and methods can, in some cases, lead to questionable associations, but in other cases can make it more difficult to detect true associations if they are present.”
As we work to broaden our understanding of PFAS, studies like this are critical. Clearly, much more research needs to be done—particularly on the difference between original and no-longer used PFAS that have indeed been proven dangerous, and the next generation of these compounds that have not—before rules and regulations are put in place that would place unnecessary restrictions on the use of these materials and trigger massive liability lawsuits. In order to reach more definitive conclusions about any causal link between PFAS and cancer, we echo the recommendations for continued study into the associations between cancer and PFAS.
We urge the Biden Administration to take a careful look at the CDC research—as well as the thousands of other studies on PFAS compounds—and closely evaluate the approach to PFAS regulation proposed by the EPA before implementing draconian rules fueled by agenda-driven science that would do far more harm than good.