EDF Health

Selected tag(s): Innovation

EPA Should Use U.S. Chemical Safety Law to Turn Off PFAS Tap

The word

PFAS is a group of synthetic chemicals used in industrial processes and consumer products, including water-repellent clothing, such as outdoor wear, and food packaging. Once these “forever chemicals” are produced and used, they often make their way into the environment and our bodies. Many pose serious threats due to their toxic effects (often at trace levels) and their ability to build up in people, animals and the environment. Studies show that they are in almost all of us.

To make matters worse, people are exposed to multiple PFAS, not individual PFAS in isolation. Yet under the nation’s primary chemical safety law, EPA evaluates the safety of PFAS chemicals one at a time and does not consider the combined risks from exposures to multiple PFAS. Combined exposures increase the risk of harmful effects, thus magnifying the risks and the need for action.

Current Situation: All Costs, No Benefits

PFAS move easily throughout the environment and are difficult to destroy. They have contaminated drinking water, food, farms, wildlife, and the environment more broadly. At the local, state and federal levels, the U.S. is spending millions of dollars to clean up PFAS contamination. Some states, such as Michigan and Maine, are trying to recoup the costs their residents have had to bear to clean-up PFAS contamination of their water and land. The federal government is also taking action to address the widespread PFAS contamination. The costs for cleaning up PFAS contamination are imposed on society by the domestic producers, importers and users of PFAS who profit from their production and use.

Yet, despite the well-documented risks and costs to society of these chemicals, companies still continue to produce, import, and use PFAS. It is time to ban all PFAS or—if there are truly essential uses for these chemicals—limit how they are produced, imported and used so that their impact on us and the environment is minimal.

Urgent Need: Revisit, Reassess, and Regulate All PFAS

While EPA has recently tightened up approvals for new PFAS entering the market, it has yet to take significant action on those that are already on the market, which includes the hundreds of PFAS the agency approved over the past few decades. It is clear these PFAS have not been produced responsibly as demonstrated by the environmental contamination associated with many of the PFAS manufacturing facilities. And yet, many of these PFAS are still on the market. They are being produced and released into the environment, are in products we use every day, and continue to contaminate us and our environment.

Many of EPA’s approvals were made 10 to 20 years ago, before we had a full picture of the pervasiveness and degree of PFAS contamination. The data on the extent of the environmental contamination of these persistent PFAS, their ability to move through the environment, and the significant difficulty in destroying them was not as robust as it is today. Furthermore, mounting evidence shows that even trace levels of PFAS can cause developmental issues in children, reduced fertility, hormonal disruptions, and certain types of cancer.

In addition, these approvals did not consider risks to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and children as currently required by the law. Many communities are exposed to multiple PFAS, particularly those who live, work and play near where PFAS are made and used.

Addressing the production, import and use of PFAS would limit further pollution of our water supplies, safeguard the health of our communities, and be consistent with other strong EPA actions to address PFAS, including its recent robust proposed drinking water standards.

Effective regulation of these harmful chemicals at their source would also accelerate efforts to seek out and adopt safer alternatives. Leaving chemicals with such well-documented harms on the market makes it more difficult for innovative, safer substitutes to enter it. Failing to address these risks in effect puts a thumb on the scale in support of older harmful technologies.

Our Take

EPA should re-evaluate each of the PFAS it has approved. During that re-evaluation, EPA should use the best available science and consider the full picture of PFAS exposure. Considering each PFAS in isolation rather than the multiple PFAS people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, are exposed to will underestimate their risk.

EPA should use the Toxic Substances Control Act to take action to ban these legacy PFAS, or restrict them if the uses are truly essential, rather than continuing to allow the production, import and use of these demonstrably harmful “forever chemicals.”

Go Deeper

Learn more about EDF’s concerns about PFAS and read our follow-up blog  on how EPA can use TSCA to turn off the PFAS tap.

EPA’s information on PFAS

Posted in Chemical exposure, Chemical regulation, Contamination, Cumulative impact, Cumulative risk assessment, Emerging testing methods, Food, Food packaging, Health hazards, Health science, Public health, Risk assessment, Risk evaluation, TSCA, Vulnerable populations / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

FDA’s short-sighted approach to building trust in the safety of cell-cultured meat and seafood products

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Consumer trust that products are safe to eat is essential to acceptance of any innovative food product.

One of the most innovative food products expected to enter U.S. markets in coming years is cell-cultured meat and seafood. Producing these products by culturing cells in tanks and forming them into foods that look and taste like their conventionally produced counterparts is a technological achievement. Proponents enthusiastically tout these products as climate-friendly alternatives that provide real hope to meet the world’s growing demand for animal protein in a sustainable way that also minimizes animal welfare concerns.

Consumer trust that products are safe to eat is essential to acceptance of any innovative food product. That trust is built through a rigorous, transparent, and independent scientific review to ensure safety. Without that, questions linger that undermine widespread consumer adoption.

Unfortunately, we have serious concerns that the process the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be planning to use to review the safety of cell-cultured meat and seafood is inadequate and will undermine consumer trust. From our perspective, the manufacturing process for cell-cultured meat and seafood is a significant departure from current practice and warrants careful scrutiny. FDA guidance is clear that, for these types of changes, the appropriate review options are a food additive petitions or the voluntary Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notification process. We strongly recommend FDA rely on these existing options existing options rather than create a new approach.

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Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS / Also tagged , | Authors: / Comments are closed

The damage done, Part 1: A post-mortem on the Trump EPA’s assault on TSCA’s new chemicals program

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

Part 1 of a 2-part series (see Part 2 here)

With last week’s announcement by EPA that it intends to reverse two of the most damaging policy changes the Trump EPA made to EPA’s reviews of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), there is hope that going forward EPA’s reviews will once again conform to TSCA’s requirements and better protect workers, consumers, the public and the environment.

Predictably, the chemical industry and its phalanx of law firms – who demanded and embraced the Trump EPA’s policy reversals – have been howling loudly, doing their best impressions of Chicken Little.  They predict huge backlogs and economic calamity of all sorts, including an end to American innovation, and their lawyers are already threatening legal action – a clever way to drum up business, no doubt.

The fact is that EPA spends scarce resources reviewing hundreds of new chemicals every year that their manufacturers are not serious about – and often not in any hurry about – commercializing.  And industry then uses any delays in those reviews to argue that the review process is too rigorous and demand that it be scaled back.

But facts are stubborn things.

In this first post I’ll look at a few reasons why the industry’s new round of fear-mongering is not based in fact.  And in a second post I’ll look at the decisions on new chemicals made under the Trump EPA to shed more light on the real reason why industry is upset:  It just may have lost the inside track that yielded such high dividends in the form of flawed approvals of hundreds of new chemicals.  Or, as one prominent industry attorney bluntly said recently in a related context, “the good days are over, quite frankly.”  Read More »

Posted in Health policy, Industry influence, TSCA reform / Also tagged , | Authors: / Comments are closed

Why do we know so little about chemical exposures? Emerging technology could disrupt the status quo.

Lindsay McCormick is a Program Manager.

EDF report identifies emerging market for personal chemical exposure monitoring technologies through a first-of-its-kind analysis.

When I first started working at EDF in 2014, I learned a statistic that shocked me: We have human exposure data on less than 4% of the roughly half-million chemicals in commerce.[1] In other words, we know next to nothing about the vast majority of chemical exposures that people were experiencing on a daily basis.

Chemicals are found in nearly all commercial products and serve a foundational role in our economy. Yet this ubiquity comes with its downsides, as some chemicals are hazardous and can find their way into our environment and ultimately end up in our water, land, and air—and in our bodies. Exposure to certain chemi­cal substances have been linked to a variety of adverse health impacts, including reproductive harm, disruption of normal hormone activity, and impaired neurological development in children.

The lack of knowledge about chemical exposures poses a major problem: Without better information on exactly which chemicals individuals are exposed to every day, it is challenging to develop effective policies and interventions to reduce harmful exposures and protect health.

Disrupting the status quo

But what if anyone could use a simple home-delivered kit or wearable device to reveal the chemicals in their environment—and in their body? Such technologies could make the invisible visible—providing individuals, as well as policy makers, businesses, health professionals, and others, with critical information needed to accelerate reductions in the public’s exposure to hazardous chemicals.

In 2017, EDF pursued a Year of Innovation to better understand opportunities to advance the market for personal chemical exposure monitors (PCEMs) – with the ultimate goal of improving public health. As part of this effort, we conducted interviews and convened an expert workshop to identify bottlenecks in the development and use of such technologies.

We learned that a significant gap exists between the demand and promise of PCEM technologies and the current cost or scalability of many of the available technologies today. Experts noted that while there is significant qualitative or anecdotal evidence of demand, a quantitative understanding of the potential market for these technologies is needed to drive a robust market.

EDF took that lesson and embarked on a two-part study to fill this gap.

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Posted in Emerging science, Emerging testing methods, Health science, Public health / Also tagged | Read 1 Response