Superfund Designation for PFOA/PFOS Does Not Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

A recent report on “forever chemicals” (PFAS or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances) by the Daily Mail had a graphic that caught my eye.  It showed the nanograms per serving for foods high in “forever chemicals.”  The eye catcher was not the numbers (which were unfortunately no surprise to me), but that they included private label items from one of our major grocery chains.  Just to be clear, it is not a reflection on the quality control our local grocery chain.  It is a reflection on how pervasive a problem PFAS chemicals are in our current society.

The report comes days after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that two widely used PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), will be designated as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.  PFAS chemicals have been linked to various health effects, and PFOA and PFOS have been specifically linked to negative effects to the immune and cardiovascular system, as well as pregnancy hypertension and decreased newborn birth weights.  Referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally degrade over time, regulatory scrutiny is intensifying as studies show they pass through the food chain and bioaccumulate in our food sources and bodies.

The EPA news is both good and bad.  Good, because these chemicals will be removed from use in consumer goods. Bad, because these chemicals are part of at least 12,000 unique compounds, and scientists haven’t had the time or funding to study the potential toxicity of these compounds. Worse still is the industry response, which has been to substitute a near identical unbanned compound (that may be even more hazardous) to replace the regulated compound. This “regrettable substitution” commonly happens despite laws with protective sounding names like the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act. Like many laws on the books, there is nothing that requires proof of safety before a chemical is approved for use in the marketplace.

And the number of consumer products with PFAS chemicals is practically uncountable.  The same chemicals that make foods slide off your non-stick pan (commonly referred to by the trade name Teflon®) are the same chemicals used to make dental floss glide through your teeth.  Other chemicals in the family that make your coat and furniture waterproof and stainproof (often referred to by the trade name Scotchgard®) are also used in to make your eyeliner and mascara waterproof.

The Food and Drug Administration announced in February that companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of PFAS in food packaging including fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags and take out containers that are grease, oil and water resistant.  This comes over a year after New York State enacted an expansion of their packaging laws to include PFAS restrictions, showing the power of the States in expanding protections for their citizens in the absence of Federal action.

In the current session, New York legislators will be reviewing multiple PFAS bills.  The first is the PFAS Surface Water Discharge Disclosure Act (A.3296A/S.227B) that would require publicly owned treatment works and people who discharge industrial waste to such treatment works to disclose the measurement of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals found in any discharge into the state waterways.   This would impact facilities like the Buffalo Sewer Authority that treat PFAS-laden wastewater leachate from landfills.  The second bill is the Ban on PFAS in Anti-Fogging Spray/Wipes (A.5363A/S.992A) which would prohibit the sale and distribution of anti-fogging sprays and wipes containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The exposure of PFAS chemicals, so close to individuals’ eyes, can be toxic and the eyes present an easy entryway to the body for these chemicals.  The third bill, the Ban on PFAS in Menstrual Products (A.5990A/S.3529A) and the fourth, the Personal Care Act (A.6969/S.4265) would restrict the use of a list of restricted substances, including PFAS, to be used in these products.  The final bill is a ban on the use of biosolids from wastewater treatment facilities for land spreading (A.8317/no Senate bill).  Currently used like farm manure to fertilize farm fields, the biosolids have been found to have concentrated amounts of PFAS chemicals which bioaccumulate in the fields.

As good as these protections will be, legislation like this is barely scratching the surface of where PFAS is currently being used.  Many of these bans cover only a specific chemical or two, leaving the threat of an even more toxic replacement to be used.  The safest thing for regulators and legislators to do is to consider restricting the entire range of PFAS chemicals in their bans until a comprehensive study of the entire family of PFAS chemicals can be done or the manufacturers can prove that a PFAS chemical is safe.

Lead image – Photo by Bermix Studio

The post Superfund Designation for PFOA/PFOS Does Not Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *