The EPA’s reports on the health hazards of two ubiquitous chemicals came too late, weren’t done correctly, and fail to address the chemicals’ presence in drinking water across the country, multiple groups told the agency in public comments.
In a pair of draft reports, the Environmental Protection Agency gauged the toxicity of two chemicals, called GenX and perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS). The EPA sought public comments on its draft reports through Jan. 22.
Both chemicals were developed as substitutes for other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the Chemours Co. and 3M Co.'s manufacturing processes, though the chemicals and their predecessors continue to be found in drinking water, groundwater, and soil across the country.
The American Chemistry Council, a chemical trade association representing companies including 3M and Chemours, seeks a broader review of the reports. It wants the EPA’s scientific advisers to look at the drafts before they’re finalized, the council said in its comments, dated Jan. 22.
“While we believe the proposed values are overly conservative, the more important point is the agency should take advantage of the expertise the Science Advisory Board offers to consider the issues raised by stakeholders,” council spokesman Jon Corley said in an email.
Both the council and the Environmental Protection Network, which represents former EPA staff, said the agency should reconsider how it reviewed scientific studies to make its conclusions about the chemicals’ health risks. In particular, EPN said the agency should derive risk estimates based on the chemicals’ impact on the thyroid.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and four other environmental and health advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club, said in a joint comment dated Jan. 22 the EPA should not assess the two chemicals individually. People who may be exposed to PFBS and GenX are also likely to be exposed to other chemicals in the PFAS family, the council wrote.
“The EPA only assesses two of the main chemicals involved in the GenX fluoropolymer manufacturing process,” Anna Reade, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email. “However, there are likely other PFAS chemicals that are part of the GenX process.”
The Sierra Club receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
Millions Spent in North Carolina
North Carolina environmental regulators have found GenX in the environment near Chemours Co.'s Fayetteville plant. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which said the EPA’s reports came too late, has found PFAS chemicals near the Chemours plant in both treated and untreated water.
The authority “has already spent millions of dollars researching these compounds and implementing interim solutions to temporarily reduce them,” the utility wrote in comments submitted Dec. 11.
The EPA is working on a national strategy to address PFAS, but it is unclear when it may be released. In its absence, three members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have introduced a bill (H.R. 535) that would give the EPA more power over PFAS cleanups.
GenX and PFBS are likely less toxic than the substances they are meant to replace, the EPA determined in the draft reports, but states and federal agencies haven’t come to a consensus on what amounts of PFAS chemicals are safe to drink.
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