E.P.A.’s Plan To Address Toxic Chemicals in Public Drinking Water May Hinder The Urgency It Demands

A long-awaited plan to create a national standard for limiting the levels of two harmful chemicals-PFOA and PFOS in drinking water will start execution by the end of the year as stated by the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA on Thursday. This prolonged debate involves a class of chemicals known as poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs linked to serious health issues including cancer. PFOA and PFOS are two of the most prominent varieties of PFAS chemicals.

Environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers have criticized the plan for its delayed effect that desperately needed regulation on a clear threat to public health from chemicals, commonly used in cookware, pizza boxes, stain repellents, and fire retardants.

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The chemical, Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, immune system disorders, congenital disabilities, and other serious health issues.

Currently, there are no federal regulations on the production or monitoring of that class consisting of nearly 5,000 chemicals that are manufactured and used in a wide variety of industries and products. According to E.P.A. officials, it is the “first-ever nationwide action plan” to address the threat of human-made chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs on human health.

Studies have shown that some PFASs can linger in the human body for years, causing harmful health impacts including increasing the risks of cancer.

Dave Ross, E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for water, in a telephonic conversation with reporters on Thursday, said, “The PFAS action plan is the most comprehensive action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the agency.” Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A.’s acting administrator and President Trump’s nominee at present to head the agency, called the plan a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”

The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group, voiced support for the plan and stated- “We continue to support strong national leadership in addressing PFAS and firmly believe that E.P.A. is best positioned to provide the public with a comprehensive strategy informed by a full understanding of the safety and benefits of different PFAS chemistries.”

The agency needs to move more quickly as per the critics, considering action by the Obama administration in 2016 on two of the chemicals suggesting the urgency of the risk.

“While E.P.A. acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe,” said Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee.

Following a public outcry over tests disclosing dangerous levels of PFASs particularly around military bases, fire stations and in communities around the United States, E.P.A. under the Obama administration proposed to create a national standard for limiting the levels PFOA and PFOS in drinking water in 2016.

E.P.A. issued a health advisory recommending actions that drinking water systems and public health officials would monitor the levels of the two chemicals in public water supplies, and notify the public if the drinking water contains PFOA and PFOS at an individual or combined concentrations greater than 70 parts per trillion.

Department of Health and Human Services released a draft report last year recommending that the “minimal risk level” for exposure to those two chemicals should be less than half that amount.

The environmentalists criticized the inadequate response of E.P.A. to the threat considering the available data on the effect of PFAS chemicals.

According to Scott Faber, an expert on chemical policy with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, it is a “drinking water crisis facing millions of Americans.” However, the E.P.A., he said, is “just not treating the crisis the way it deserves.”

The critics of the E.P.A. particularly sited the role of Nancy Beck, a former lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council in deceleration of the agency’s response to address the threat of PFASs.

Scott Pruitt, the previous administrator of the E.P.A., convened a summit last May. Addressing the threat of PFAS chemicals, he announced that the E.P.A. would decide whether to set a national drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS, as a first step. Mr. Wheeler said on Thursday that the agency wants to act fast to start that regulatory process.

“Our goal is to close the gap on the science as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that the agency is looking for options and technology to lower the concentration of PFAS chemicals in drinking water.

However, Mr. Wheeler did not offer any vivid timeline for completing the process of standardization. These kinds of regulatory processes often take years. As suggested by Mr. Carper, E.P.A.’s failure to provide a clear timeline on completing the standard could affect the nomination of Mr. Wheeler to be E.P.A.’s permanent administrator. “I urge Mr. Wheeler to reverse course and treat this public health threat with the urgency it deserves,” Mr. Carper said. “And I ask my colleagues in the Senate to take note of Mr. Wheeler’s lack of urgency in addressing this threat as they consider his nomination to be E.P.A.’s permanent administrator.”

Arindom Ghosh

A professional writer, blogger, copywriter, and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, New York. He has been part of many reputed domestic and global online magazines and publications. An avid reader and a nature lover by heart, when he is not working, he is probably exploring the secrets of life.