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US environmental groups lobby Congress for ban on new PFASs

Places - US - Capitol, Washington ©Orhan Çam - Fotolia

US environmental groups have told Congress that new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) should be banned and are calling for a halt on continued use of existing ones.

The latest push on the controversial substances came in a 6 September House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, 'Perfluorinated chemicals in the environment: An update on the response to contamination and challenges presented'.

Much of the multi-hour discussion focused on setting enforceable and sufficiently protective drinking water standards, especially in light of recent PFAS contamination events in some US states including New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Yet restricting the substances’ manufacture and use also arose as a potential method for controlling their presence in the environment.

PFASs: the new PCBs? 

In oral testimony and written comments submitted to the House subcommittee on the environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Eric Olson said that the EPA should use TSCA to ban new uses of existing PFASs, as well as all new PFASs.

And he called for a phase-out of all existing uses, with "extremely narrow exceptions for true national defense needs, emergencies, or similar urgent needs where there are no alternatives".

"The evidence has become clear that PFASs are our new PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] – but are possibly more widespread and dangerous," he said. The EPA "must step up to fix the problem".

Mr Olson also submitted a letter endorsed by more than 50 organisations, echoing the call to move away from the full class of substances.

"States are already stepping up to eliminate PFAS from key product sectors, including food packaging firefighting foam and textiles," wrote the groups, which included Earthjustice, Safer States and the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "Congress should phase out the use of these chemicals to avoid further contamination."

The American Chemistry Council, however, issued a statement saying that PFASs currently manufactured "have been well studied and undergone rigorous regulatory review", including under the TSCA new chemicals programme.

"Those chemistries play an essential role in many products we depend on in modern life," the trade group added.

The ACC said it supports the determination of maximum environmental contaminant levels grounded in "sound science". It pledged to continue being a "constructive partner to state and federal regulators and other stakeholders affected by this important issue".

PFAS controversy

The public hearing comes amid a spike in consumer concern and political controversy surrounding the class of substances.

Even though the EPA has rolled out a PFAS action plan and held community engagement events, lawmakers expressed concern that the agency has lost the public’s confidence amid reports that it worked to suppress release of a PFAS toxicity profile for fear of a "public relations nightmare".

Others questioned whether the agency’s proposed ‘science transparency’ policy could undercut critical studies on the substances.

Recent weeks have seen the introduction of bills to address PFAS contamination in the environment. And in the absence of federal action, states and cities continue to act on their use in products.

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