Uncertainty is expensive. It is a breeding ground for doubt, fear, and panic.
The ongoing effort to regulate PFAS compounds by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies is an example of how scientific uncertainty surrounding risk can lead to a tangled mess at the intersection of science, justice, and the economy.
Without clarity surrounding the risks of exposure to PFAS compounds, decision-makers are left vulnerable to the cherry-picked data and misinformation campaigns wielded by agenda-driven advocacy groups to create panic where evidence is lacking.
Mass tort lawyers will no doubt capitalize on this panic, forcing companies to make a Hobson’s choice between paying one massive settlement or defending a never-ending stream of lawsuits. As a recent editorial in Claims Journal wrote, “litigation and regulation of PFAS are really just ramping up.”
Much of the recent activity on both sides of the PFAS debate has been in reaction to the EPA’s new Regulatory Roadmap for PFAS, which is based on three objectives: research, restrict, and remediate. We hope the EPA will address them in the order in which they are listed, and with an acknowledgement of the wide range of compounds within the PFAS family.
The two original PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA, have been extensively studied. While U.S. manufacturers voluntarily stopped making both compounds decades ago, there are still some areas — military bases, airports, landfills, etc. — where high concentrations of PFOA and PFOS remain in the environment. Based on the best available scientific evidence, the EPA is correctly focusing its Roadmap efforts on the “restrict and remediate” objectives for these compounds.
However, there is almost universal agreement within the scientific community that research on short-chain PFAS — compounds designed to be less persistent than the original PFOA and PFOS — is sketchy, at best. For these compounds, we urge regulators to consider the Roadmap’s first objective: research. Taking a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to short-chain PFAS would only fuel uncertainty, fear, panic, and of course, more mass tort lawsuits.
In the spirit of advancing knowledge and reducing uncertainty, the Center-funded independent systematic analysis of the most-widely cited PFAS research has been completed. The results will be submitted to a scientific journal for peer review to verify the quality of the research and the accuracy of its findings. Once completed, we will present these findings to regulators, litigators, legislators, and anyone else interested in learning more about known risks of exposure to PFAS compounds, and equally important, what additional research must be done to more accurately determine the health risks to humans.
We commission independent research to inform — not to rile up. We hope the results will help policymakers reach the best possible decisions based on the best possible scientific evidence.