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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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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Washington State takes action to eliminate use of PFAS in food packaging

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

Around 1990, driven by a concern to keep heavy metals out of recycled products, many states adopted laws prohibiting the intentional addition of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury to packaging and limited their total concentration to 100 parts per million. Manufacturers and suppliers of packaging and packaging components in these states were also both required to furnish a Certificate of Compliance to the packaging purchaser and provide a copy to the state and the public upon request. The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse currently reports that 19 states have adopted this type of legislation.

Out of concern about consumer’s health and contamination of compost, on February 28, 2018, Washington State extended its heavy metal packaging law in a groundbreaking way. The legislature passed HB-2658 banning the intentional use of “perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances” (PFAS) in food packaging made from plant fibers, pending a determination by the Washington Department of Ecology that safer alternatives are available. The law defines PFAS as “a class of fluorinated organic chemicals containing at least one fully fluorinated carbon atom.”

The ban goes into effect in 2022 or two years after the Department makes the safer alternative determination, whichever is later.[1] If, after evaluating the chemical hazards, exposure, performance, cost, and availability of alternatives, the Department does not find safer alternatives by 2020, it must update its analysis annually. We anticipate that this approach will spur innovation among companies offering alternatives and provide a thoughtful and rigorous review of the options.

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American Water lays out a plan for replacing lead pipes in its Indiana systems

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Updated May 4, 2018: The IURC issued an order on March 7 scheduling an evidentiary hearing for May 7, 2018 at 9:30 am at its offices in Indianapolis.  In advance of the meeting, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor,  the state agency representing taxpayers interests, filed a brief supporting Indiana American Water's proposal to replace LSLs using ratepayer funds with six modifications.  No parties opposed the proposal.  In response, Indiana American Water accepted some but not all of the modifications.

The Indiana subsidiary of American Water Company filed a plan in January 2018 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to fully replace lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities it serves within the next 10 to 24 years. The company estimates that 50,000 of its 300,000 customers in the state have lead pipe in a portion of the service line connecting the main under the street with the building.

The plan is the first submitted to the IURC in response to legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in April 2017 and authored by Rep. Heath VanNatter. If the IURC approves the plan, the company can seek Commission approval to include LSL replacement on private property as an eligible infrastructure improvement whose costs can be covered by rates paid by customers.

With the plan, American Water is essentially embracing the goal articulated by EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the American Water Works Association that the United States needs to eliminate LSLs. We applaud that goal and American Water’s commitment – while it will take time to achieve, people should not be drinking water through lead pipes, even with optimal corrosion control. Read More »

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Wisconsin law removes crucial barrier to lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Sam Lovell, Project Specialist

Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that takes an important step to replacing the 240,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in communities across the state. SB-48 allows municipalities and water utilities to provide financial assistance to property owners to replace LSLs on private property. We described the legislation in an earlier blog – and applauded the critical work of state advocates in building support for the law.

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EDF submits comments on Oregon’s proposed rules for lead testing in child care centers

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager and Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

EDF recently submitted comments to the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division regarding the state’s proposed rules for lead testing for water in licensed and regulated child care centers.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure: even very low blood lead levels can impair normal brain development, contribute to learning and behavioral problems and lower IQs.

While national attention on lead in drinking water has spurred action to address lead in schools, fewer states have addressed lead in water in child care settings – even though these centers serve children at their most vulnerable ages.

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