EDF Health

Understanding PFAS: Why a broad, transparent PFAS Testing Strategy is needed

Maria Doa, Senior Director, Chemicals Policy; Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst; and Lariah Edwards, Post-Doctoral Fellow

EDF this week sent EPA a letter identifying opportunities for the agency to improve the effectiveness and transparency of its strategy for testing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

EPA unveiled its National PFAS Testing Strategy (Testing Strategy) last fall, laying out its plan to better understand the class of chemicals and inform its future regulatory efforts. PFAS are a large group of synthetic chemicals used to impart water, oil, grease, and stain resistance to various materials, and they are used in hundreds of everyday products, from water-proof clothing to grease-proof food packaging. By its own count, EPA says there are more than 12,000 individual PFAS.

In their letter to EPA, EDF analyst Lauren Ellis and post-doctoral fellow Lariah Edwards commended the agency for developing a strategy to address some of the significant data gaps that exist around PFAS and committing to use its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) ‒ the country’s main chemical safety law ‒ to require manufacturers to provide toxicity data on the chemicals.

As the letter points out, however, in its current state, the Testing Strategy lacks sufficient detail and is too narrow to fulfill the agency’s intended purpose to understand and regulate PFAS in a way that is protective of both human health and the environment. Read More »

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EPA’s Significant New Use Rules under TSCA must reflect its policy goals

Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst, Environmental Health 

We recently submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on a subset of proposed Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) published by the New Chemicals program under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We commend EPA for issuing these proposed SNURs. Our review of some of the SNURs, however, raised concerns about chemical releases to the environment, risks to consumers, and the absence of worker protections. We believe EPA can address many of these concerns by following through on its stated policy goals. 

For all the chemicals in this batch, EPA had previously issued “consent orders” – which impose restrictions on a new chemical – because the agency found at the time of their initial review for market entry that the chemical substances may present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. We strongly support EPA’s use of SNURs to follow up on consent orders it issues, as a consent order only applies to the original company that submitted a premanufacture notice (PMN) to EPA to domestically manufacture or import a new chemical. 

A SNUR is a separate action that requires any company seeking to engage in a “significant new use” identified in the SNUR to notify EPA at least 90 days before beginning that use, triggering EPA’s review of the potential new use. For new chemicals that received orders, a SNUR can conform to the order – meaning it mirrors the conditions in the consent order for the chemical – or it can apply more broadly to activities or uses that are beyond the scope of the consent order. Either way, SNURs enable the agency to review potentially risky uses prior to their commencement. 

In our comments, we call for four major changes to a subset of the proposed SNURs: 

Read More »

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Seven ways we can turn off the tap on PFAS pollution

This blog is adapted from an Op-Ed originally published by Environmental Health News on Nov. 23 and is authored by Lauren Ellis, Research Analyst and Maricel Maffini, consultant.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of highly persistent chemicals used in hundreds of products. Many PFAS are toxic and have been detected in the bloodstream of virtually all Americans. It’s an ongoing public health and environmental emergency that requires immediate and comprehensive action.

The good news is the White House recently outlined its plan to tackle PFAS pollution already in our water, air and food.

These are worthy efforts, and EDF commends the Biden-Harris Administration for taking these important steps. In addition to these initial actions aimed at addressing legacy pollution, it is also crucial to prevent additional PFAS from entering commerce and further polluting our environment.

In an Op-Ed published today by Environmental Health News, EDF Environmental Health Research Analyst Lauren Ellis and EDF consultant Maricel Maffini laid out seven steps the federal government should take to address PFAS in commerce and help turn off the tap on new PFAS pollution. The recommendations range from adopting a comprehensive definition for PFAS and taking a class-based approach to regulating the chemicals to phasing out all but essential uses of the substances. Read More »

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FDA and industry continue to ignore cumulative effects of chemicals in the diet

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, consultant

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made no apparent progress to comply with the legal requirement that it consider the cumulative effect of chemicals in the diet that have similar health impacts when evaluating the safety of an additive. A year ago, on September 23, 2020, EDF and 11 other organizations[1] filed a formal petition with the agency documenting the problem and asking it begin complying with the law.

We reviewed FDA and industry actions since the petition was filed and found that both continued to ignore the requirement 100% of the time in:

  • Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notices in which companies were required to consider the cumulative effect as part of their determination that a substance’s use was safe;
  • FDA’s responses to those GRAS notices where it found “no questions” with the flawed safety determinations; and
  • FDA’s revised guidance to industry on use of recycled plastics in food packaging.

The agency’s only response to our petition was a March 2021 letter saying it “has not reached a decision due to competing priorities” and that the “petition is currently under active evaluation by [its] staff.”

From what we can see, FDA and industry continue to make safety determinations about chemical additives without regard to their overall effect on individuals’ health and their legal obligations. Is it any surprise that consumers continue to rate chemicals in food their #1 food safety concern? Read More »

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Loosening industry’s grip on EPA’s new chemicals program

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

[I delivered a shorter version of these comments at the September 22, 2021 webinar titled “Hair on Fire and Yes Packages! How the Biden Administration Can Reverse the Chemical Industry’s Undue Influence,” cosponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), NH Safe Water Alliance, and EDF.  A recording of the webinar will shortly be available here.  The webinar, second in a series, follows on EPA whistleblower disclosures first appearing in a complaint filed by PEER that are detailed in a series of articles by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept.]

The insularity of the New Chemicals Program – where staff only interact with industry and there is no real engagement with other stakeholders – spawns and perpetuates these industry-friendly and un-health-protective policies.

I have closely tracked the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Program for many years.  Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the program does not serve the agency’s mission and the public interest, but rather the interests of the chemical industry.  Despite the major reforms Congress made to the program in 2016 when it overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the New Chemicals Program is so badly broken that nothing less than a total reset can fix the problems.

Revelations emerging through responses Environmental Defense Fund finally received to a FOIA request we made two years ago, and through the disclosures of courageous whistleblowers who did or still work in the New Chemicals Program, confirm what I have long suspected, looking in from the outside.  The program:

  • uses practices that allow the chemical industry to easily access and hold sway over EPA reviews and decisions on the chemicals they seek to bring to market;
  • has developed a deeply embedded culture of secrecy that blocks public scrutiny and accountability;
  • employs policies – often unwritten – that undermine Congress’ major reforms to the law and reflect only industry viewpoints; and
  • operates through a management system and managers, some still in place, that regularly prioritize industry’s demands for quick decisions that allow their new chemicals onto the market with no restrictions, over reliance on the best science and protection of public and worker health.

Many of the worst abuses coming to light took place during the Trump administration, and it is tempting to believe the change in administrations has fixed the problems.  It has not.  The damaging practices, culture, policies and management systems predate the last administration and laid the foundation for the abuses.  Highly problematic decisions continue to be made even in recent weeks.

I am encouraged by recent statements and actions of Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator of the EPA office that oversees TSCA implementation.  They clearly are moves in the right direction.  But it is essential that the deep-rooted, systemic nature of the problem be forthrightly acknowledged and forcefully addressed.

Let me provide some examples of each of the problems I just noted.  Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Industry Influence, Public Health, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Beyond paper, part 2: PFAS intentionally used to make plastic food packaging

Tom Neltner, Chemicals Policy Director; Maricel Maffini, consultant; and Tom Bruton with Green Science Policy Institute

Since 2002, FDA has authorized the use of four types of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) to make plastic food packaging, one as recently as 2016. The PFAS are allowed in plastic at levels up to 2000 parts per million (ppm); although lower than those used to greaseproof paper, these levels still contaminate food. The PFAS are added to facilitate the production of articles such as bottles and wraps. They reportedly improve polymer extrusion, reduce build-up on the injection mold, and improve surface roughness among other technical effects.

EDF submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for seven food contact substance notices (FCNs) that FDA has authorized. From FDA’s response[1], we learned that these PFAS can contaminate food in contact with the packaging. In one case the overall amount of the PFAS in the diet would be as high as 41 ppb (see pages 31-32 of FOIA response) – much more than is tolerated for some PFAS in drinking water.

These plastic processing aids, along with fluorinated polyethylene, are the latest additions to a growing list of sources of ‘forever chemicals’ in the diet. They join environmental contamination and greaseproofed paper and cardboard as sources that food companies must consider in order to keep PFAS out of their products and respond to consumer demand for safer food. Given the evidence, FDA needs to move forward pursuant to our June 2021 citizens petition to evaluate the safety of PFAS taking into account the cumulative effect of these chemicals in the diet from many sources.

Read More »

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