The EPA announced this past February its PFAS Action Plan to address the problem of widespread exposure to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), whose harmful ecological and health effects have only come to light in recent years. PFAS are a group of chemicals used in a wide variety of manufacturing practices since the 1940s, and they are be found nearly anywhere they are tested for - air, water, soil, and even human bodies - even though most manufacturers stopped using them a few years ago. Most people in the United States have been exposed to some amount of PFAS, which limited research points to as a carcinogen.
The PFAS Action Plan aims to improve our understanding of PFAS and its effects on health and the environment, standardize public health communications regarding PFAS, create regulations and enforcement strategies to curb further PFAS releases, and more. “The PFAS Action Plan is the most comprehensive cross-agency plan to address an emerging chemical of concern ever undertaken by EPA,” said Andrew Wheeler, EPA acting administrator. “For the first time in EPA history, we utilized all of our program offices to construct an all-encompassing plan to help states and local communities address PFAS and protect our nation’s drinking water.”
The EPA’s relatively cautious and deliberate approach to addressing the PFAS issue has received mixed reactions. The American Chemistry Council views the PFAS Action Plan positively for its focus on improving scientific understanding of the chemical group, though it supports the inclusion of some initiatives that can be implemented quickly based on the best-available science. Other groups, including some state agencies and environmental advocacy groups, are criticizing the EPA for what they view as too little too late.
New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection has accused the EPA of “leaving millions of Americans exposed to harmful chemicals for too long by choosing a drawn-out process.” EarthJustice attorney Suzanne Novak responded to the release of the EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, “This is an action plan with no action.” She described the announced plan as “a long list of initiating steps that EPA should have been doing for the past few years, but no concrete actions. Meanwhile, PFAS are linked to chronic health issues, even death, and are highly unregulated despite a national emergency affecting entire towns.”
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