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The recent reintroduction of the PFAS Action Act in the US House of Representatives has revived the discussion surrounding the regulation of per- and polyfluorinated substances known as PFAS.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, then Vice President Joe Biden made a commitment to the American people that, as President, they would lead with “science and truth” when it comes to making important public health and environmental regulation decisions. And just a week after the new administration took office, the White House released a “Memorandum on Restoring Confidence in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policy-Making,” stating that “it is the policy of the [the Biden] Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best science and data available. ”
The reintroduction of the PFAS Action Act gives current President Biden an opportunity to keep that promise and ask Congress to put science first.
Unfortunately, the language of the PFAS Action Act is deeply flawed. It subjects all PFAS to a uniform regulatory approach, regardless of their very different properties and uses. This is not leading with science. Congress would not move to ban farmers and grocers from selling strawberries because they have certain molecular similarities to poisonous holly berries – yet this is exactly the kind of regulation that some in Congress are proposing for PFAS.
PFAS are crucial to our 21stst Century. They are a diverse universe of chemicals found in, for example, COVID-19 tests and PPE that are helping to save lives around the world amid the pandemic. PFAS also enable the use of electricity from alternative energy sources and are an integral part of the manufacture of semiconductors and technologies such as fuel cells, solar panels and advanced battery technologies that drive sustainability efforts worldwide. They are also found in dozens of consumer products that people use every day.
With these vastly different uses of PFAS, there are important fundamental differences, and it is neither scientifically accurate nor appropriate to group all of these chemicals together. This broad universe of chemistry encompasses liquids, gases, and solids – in no other area do we treat everyone alike, and it shouldn’t be any different here.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 600 different types of PFAS are made and / or used in the United States. These individual chemicals have unique biological, physical, and chemical properties. In recognizing this amazing diversity of chemistry, we must also recognize the inherent need to regulate it differently based on science, rather than treat it as a unit.
Simply put, not all PFAS are created equal. Treating them as such ignores mainstream science, and even prominent organizations like the Environmental Council of States and the Vermont Department of Environment Conservation did not recognize until April that it was “not feasible” to regulate PFAS as a class. PFAS each have unique properties and uses as well as environmental and health profiles and therefore cannot be regulated effectively or on a reasonable scientific basis by a uniform methodology. This also contradicts the EPA’s career scientists, who have already voiced their warnings about regulating PFAS as a class.
There are clear scientific reasons why not all PFAS are treated equally. For these reasons, different PFAS require different regulatory approaches. Given these differences, a too comprehensive and unscientific approach to regulating all PFAS together will not be effective, ignore current regulatory priorities, and negatively impact large parts of the economy. Regulators, lawmakers, industry and other stakeholders should work together to address these issues, and science should guide the smart regulation of these vital chemicals.
It is important to adequately and effectively regulate PFAS chemicals as they are prevalent in American lives. The American Chemistry Council and its members support these efforts and are committed to working with federal and state lawmakers to develop science-based, effective regulations to protect the environment and consumer health.
We support strict, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances. Our industry has been proactive and has taken a leadership role in managing specific PFAS chemistries. In addition, a broad regulatory framework has already been put in place by the US EPA and Congress to handle much of what the new PFAS Action Act seeks to do – but without grouping PFAS as a class. This makes the PFAS Action Act not only scientifically uninformed, but also superfluous in view of the existing regulations.
As Congress is considering potential approaches to managing PFAS, the Biden government has an opportunity to deliver on its pledge and call on Congress to allow established science to guide regulatory and public health decisions.
Adopting a unified grouping for all PFAS chemistry would be a rejection, not an embrace, of scientific thinking. Should the PFAS Action Act become law, it would undermine President Biden’s promise that “Science is back“Under his administration. Let’s work together to use science for smart regulation.