EDF Health

FDA-approved PFAS and drinking water – Q&A on textile mills and environmental permits

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant

In May 2018, we released a blog highlighting paper mills as a potentially significant source of drinking water contamination from 14 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) used to greaseproof paper. We showed that wastewater discharge could result in PFAS concentrations in rivers in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 70 parts per trillion (ppt) health advisory level for drinking water contamination for PFOA and PFOS, the most studied of the PFASs. We identified 269 paper mills with discharge permits that warrant investigation. Readers of the blog have asked some important questions highlighted below. As with most issues involving PFAS, there are many gaps in what we know. Based on the information provided in response to EDF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, we hope to fill in some of the gaps and highlight key information needed to better understand the risks of PFASs.  

Question 1: Could textile mills also be a source of PFASs in drinking water?

The answer is “probably.” The FDA-approved PFASs can be used in coating paper that contacts food to repel oil, grease, and water. The same or similar FDA-approved PFASs may be used for non-food uses such as coating textiles to resist stains and repel water.

The processes used to coat paper and textiles differ in some aspects that could affect a mill’s environmental releases. For paper, the PFASs are typically added to the wet wood fibers to be made into paper. In contrast, we understand that PFASs are applied to textiles after the water is removed. Therefore, we would suspect that the amount of PFASs, whether as polymers or impurities, released with the wastewater of a textile mill would be lower compared to that of a typical paper mill. However, there is very little data available to assess the potential environmental release of PFASs from textile mills. Unlike with FDA approvals, there is no environmental review of a chemical’s use in non-food consumer products.[1] So, it would be worthwhile to investigate textile mills for use of PFASs in addition to looking at paper mills.

Using an EPA database[2], we identified 66 textile mills (PDF and EXCEL) in the US, two thirds of which are located in North and South Carolina. Based on wastewater flow, the two largest mills are both operated by Milliken. Its largest facility is in Greenville, South Carolina with a water discharge of 72 million gallons per day (MGD). The second largest is in Bacon, Georgia with a water discharge of 15 MGD. DuPont’s Old Hickory facility, near Nashville, Tennessee, had the third greatest flow at 10 MGD. We do not know whether any of the facilities use and discharge FDA-approved PFASs.

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EPA sets interim limits on hypochlorite bleach to reduce degradation to perchlorate

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

On May 1, 2018, Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) made an interim pesticide registration decision[1] for hypochlorite bleach used to disinfect drinking water. The office decided to require the “Precautionary Statements” section of the bleach’s pesticide label to include advisory best management practices to minimize the formation of chlorate and perchlorate. The new label will state:

"The following practices help to minimize degradant formation in drinking water disinfection:

  • It is recommended to minimize storage time.
  • It is recommended that the pH solution be in the range of 11-13.
  • It is recommended to minimize sunlight exposure by storing in opaque containers and / or in a covered area. Solutions should be stored at lower temperatures. Every 5º C reduction in storage temperature will reduce degradant formation by a factor of two.
  • Dilution significantly reduces degradant formation. For products with higher concentrations, it is recommended to dilute hypochlorite solutions with cool, softened water upon delivery, if practical for the application."

EDF submitted comments in November 2017 supporting OPP’s proposed label changes and requesting specific changes to the language including making the advice to users mandatory. We also asked the agency to extend the changes to hypochlorite bleach used to treat produce and to disinfect food handling equipment.

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Sensors and electronic health records reveal block-by-block traffic air pollution health disparities among the elderly in Oakland

Dr. Ananya Roy is a Health Scientist

Many public heath efforts, thankfully, focus on the youngest among us. We fight for a clean environment and healthy future for our kids. However, it is easy to forget that pollution affects us in every stage of life and its insidious health effects accumulate over time and can result in disease and disability.

Older people already have higher rates of disease and are highly vulnerable to air pollution, because they have been breathing for 70, 80, or 90 years. The effects of air pollution among the elderly provide insights that help us solve problems that can benefit the whole population.

Senior citizens have become the largest and fastest-growing segment of the population. By 2030 one in five Americans will be 65 and older, a demographic shift that influences everything from consumer behavior to health-care costs. Further, grandparents play a critical role in the success of families and the next generation – both emotionally and physically. It is estimated that for approximately 4.9 million families with children, the grandparent is the main breadwinner.

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New EPA Science Regulation: A Trojan Horse that Hurts Public Health

By Dr. Ananya Roy, Sc.D. & Dr. Elena Craft, Ph.D

Last week, embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rushed to propose a new rule that may prevent EPA from using certain scientific studies in its decisions. He was in such a rush that he didn’t even wait for the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of the proposal before releasing it. The rule was published yesterday in the Federal Register, marking the start of a 30 day public comment period.

Though touted as a measure for transparency, the proposed policy includes a carefully worded loophole[1] that would enable politically driven decisions on what science is used to support critical safety standards. It would hamper public health protections by allowing the agency’s political leadership to select studies that benefit its agenda and ignore those that don’t, opening the door to industry interests and secrecy.

Our colleague Richard Denison explained in a blog post last week how this policy might be used to decimate toxic chemicals safeguards at EPA. Here, we focus on what this deeply destructive proposal would mean for clean air and health.

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Scott Pruitt seeks to cook the books on EPA risk assessment science

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled his “secret science” initiative yesterday at a press conference to which no press were invited.  While EPA has yet to post the proposed rule or otherwise make it available to the public, it was made available by others.  The main thrust of the proposal is actually considerably different and, at least initially, more targeted, than advertised by Pruitt in recent weeks and by the House of Representatives Science Committee’s Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who authored the secret science legislation on which Pruitt’s proposal was to be based and appeared with Pruitt yesterday.

Yesterday both men stuck to their earlier talking points about the need to make sure all information EPA relies on is reproducible and fully publicly available, and never mentioned the change in the focus of the proposal.  I suspect both of them would have been hard pressed to describe the actual main focus of the proposal, which is now this:

When promulgating significant regulatory actions, the Agency shall ensure that dose response data and models underlying pivotal regulatory science are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.  (p. 23, emphases in original)

But I am sure Dr. Nancy Beck, chemical industry toxicologist turned top political appointee in EPA’s toxics office, could in a heartbeat.

I would describe the new approach, while no less dangerous, as a laser-guided missile in comparison to the carpet-bombing approach taken by the House legislation and earlier iterations of the EPA proposal.   Read More »

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EPA IRIS program receives high marks from the National Academies

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist and Ryan O’Connell is a High Meadows Fellow with the Health Program.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published its review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, concluding that the program has made strong progress in implementing NAS’ earlier recommendations. As noted by the chair of the NAS committee that led the review, “The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

As I’ve blogged about before, IRIS is a non-regulatory program that provides critical chemical reviews and scientific expertise that help ensure the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live, work, and play are safe. Offices across EPA and elsewhere in the federal government rely on IRIS, as do states, local governments, and affected communities (see here and here).

“The changes in the IRIS program over such a short period of time are impressive.”

The new NAS report comes four years after its 2014 review, which noted the substantial progress made by IRIS in addressing recommendations from a more critical 2011 review of a draft IRIS assessment of formaldehyde. It is worth noting that half of the committee members involved in the new IRIS review served on the committee that authored the 2011 review.   Read More »

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