An Environmental Procrastination Agency

The EPA Finally Unveils A Plan For PFAS & It’s Underwhelming

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On Monday, the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its highly anticipated action plan for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a class of thousands of toxic, man-made “forever chemicals,” created and used by industry since the 1940s that are inescapable in our environment today, including at our taps.

In fact, an explosive article in The Guardian revealed that the EPA’s own data has identified more than 120,000 sites across the country where people can be exposed to PFAS, which are associated with many different types of cancers and other serious health issues.

PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the U.S. and around the globe since the 1940s, and they are still being used today. These industrial facilities include everything from oil and gas, mining and chemical manufacturing, to plastics, waste management, and landfill operations. And don’t forget the PFAS oozing from airports, fire-training facilities and many active and inactive military sites.

The report acknowledges that PFAS are “an urgent public health and environmental issue.” But the plan falls short for so many communities already dealing with the impact.

It calls for many future steps to help regulate, remediate, and conduct more research on these toxins. While there’s proposals for future actions in 2022, 2023, and 2024, it lacks substantial action now.

“For far too long, communities across the United States have been suffering from exposure to PFAS pollution,” writes EPA Administrator Michael Regan at the beginning of the report. “As the science has continued to develop, we know more now than ever about how PFAS build up in our bodies over long periods of time, and how they can cause adverse health effects that can devastate families.”

Regan is no stranger to PFAS. When he was Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, he became aware that the Cape Fear River had been contaminated by these persistent chemicals, along with many other locations throughout the state. A recent report of PFAS-contaminated foam washing ashore North Carolina’s beaches and other coastal locations stands as a stark reminder that this shit is everywhere and needs to be dealt with.

Let’s unpack the PFAS timeline

Our friend and lawyer Rob Bilott, who represented about 80,000 people whose drinking water was poisoned by PFOA from a West Virginia DuPont plant, first wrote a letter to the EPA discussing the dangers of these chemicals in March 2001.

This “action plan” is more of an announcement that they’re working on it. It’s been 20 years… WTF.

“We know intimately the costs and burdens associated with EPA inaction,” said Stel Bailey of Fight for Zero and co-facilitator of the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, in a statement. “The EPA’s leadership in releasing this plan is an important first step in the right direction and more clearly highlights the extra work that needs to be done. We will do whatever it takes to see our communities are made whole. We promise to be as persistent as PFAS.”

Want to know more about Stel’s story and the impact of PFAS in communities. Read her story here and learn more about how she’s been fighting for clean water.

“While it’s good to see EPA laying out the steps that Administrator Regan announced today, it’s going to take even more action—from states, Congress, EPA, and other federal agencies—to turn off the tap on the pollution that results from using these dangerous toxic chemicals,” said Liz Hitchcock, director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, in a statement.

I know there are many well-intentioned and smart people working at the EPA who want change and who want to help communities impacted by PFAS, but the longer we wait, the more people are getting sick.

Our first story in this newsletter looked at the sludge problems in Maine caused by PFAS. Farmers and everyday residents are dealing with that mess right now. It’s been a huge problem for many years.

In the EPA’s new plan, the agency will complete the risk assessment for PFOA and PFOS (two well-known PFAS) in biosolids (what we call sludge) by Winter 2024. That assessment will serve as the basis for determining whether regulation of PFOA and PFOS in biosolids is appropriate. APPROPRIATE!?!

My friend and water expert Bob Bowcock has called for the land application of sludge in the U.S. to be ceased immediately.

We need federal biosolids standards now. These exposures have already ruined people’s livelihoods and their health.

To learn more about EPA’s actions, check out the new PFAS Testing Strategy.

Want to take action on PFAS? Go here.

Meanwhile in Greenville, California…

I’m working to get justice for those impacted by wildfires. Here’s some footage from my most recent trip to Northern California. It’s devastating to see it firsthand.

The climate crisis continues to fuel more destructive wildfires. The Dixie Fire was one of eight large active fires in the state this season scorching close to 2 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

California Representative Doug LaMalfa represents the area and has acknowledged that more action is needed and more attention should be paid to the impact these fires have had on communities.

“We lost Greenville tonight,” LaMalfa said in an emotional Facebook video this summer. “And there’s just not words for how us in government haven’t been able to get the job done.”


What do you think about PFAS and/or wildfires? Add your voice in the comments below.