The EPA has announced its comprehensive national strategy to confront PFAS pollution, and it has managed to upset organizations on both sides of the debate. Perhaps that’s a sign the EPA might be on to something.
The three key components of the plan are to increase investments in research, to restrict PFAS compounds from being released into the environment at harmful levels, and to accelerate efforts to clean up current contamination. The story made national headlines and was widely shared on blogs and social media. And boy, do people have opinions.
Environmental groups object to the EPA’s plan to conduct additional research on PFAS and are calling for hundreds of types of PFAS compounds to be regulated as a single class of chemicals.
“Slicing and dicing the PFAS category into 24 subcategories and then conducting a multi-phased testing program on 24 compounds is not an efficient or expeditious way to regulate commercial uses of PFAS,” said Robert Sussman, an attorney representing six environmental groups.
On the flip side, companies that make and use PFAS compounds expressed concerns about the impact of potential regulations on business operations and liability exposures. “This is a strong statement that PFAS is going to be heavily regulated from conception to burial,” explained Doug Henderson, a partner at King & Spalding.
Others warned that state-level regulations established before any EPA federal regulations may result in a minefield of liability cases for companies. This would play right into the hands of the trial bar, whose members view PFAS as the next mass tort gold mine.
We expect the EPA to move swiftly on certain aspects of the plan, such as setting enforceable drinking water standards for the two original and most-studied compounds, PFOA and PFOS. However, the United States is likely years away from a suite of federal regulations governing the broad spectrum of PFAS compounds and their uses.
This debate is about more than non-stick cookware and stain-proof carpeting. PFAS compounds are an essential component of products from anti-lock braking systems, to wireless networks, to medical devices. The impact of regulations will be significant on both consumers and corporations.
The Center is not a regulator, litigator, or policymaker. We seek only the truth about scientific issues, and believe public health decisions should be made using only validated, transparent, and reproducible scientific evidence that properly accounts for risks and hazards.
On this we agree with the EPA — there are enormous knowledge gaps in the hazards and safety of many PFAS compounds, and more research needs to be done to determine the verifiable facts and remaining uncertainties.
To help bring clarity to this process, the Center will soon release the results of two independent systematic analyses of existing PFAS research that seek to identify what we know — and don’t know — about the safety and hazards of various PFAS compounds. Based on their findings, the researchers will recommend a variety of specific research areas the EPA should consider as it advances its PFAS plan.
Our primary concern is getting the science right so that policy outcomes are based on validated science. We hope the EPA and others will use the Center’s scientific information to make better decisions that preserve innovation, benefit consumers, and protect public health.