Companies making 20 PFAS will receive orders before the end of this year requiring them to provide the EPA information about ways those chemicals may affect human health, the agency’s top chemicals official told a House subcommittee Wednesday.
The required tests will help the Environmental Protection Agency understand more than 2,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, said Michal Ilana Freedhoff, the agency’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.
More data orders will come in the months and years ahead, Freedhoff told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. The information will help the EPA decide whether to group similar PFAS together and which PFAS deserve closer analysis or possibly restriction.
The grouping strategy is essential, because the agency can’t address thousands of PFAS focusing on one at a time, Freedhoff said.
But Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) said he’s concerned that Congress and the EPA are moving to ban all of PFAS even though some are critical for medical purposes and other uses.
PFAS are used to make thousands of products ranging from catheters to fuel cells to non-stick pans. Yet growing scientific evidence shows that exposure to certain levels of specific PFAS can harm human health, Freedhoff’s written testimony said. Some PFAS remain in the environment because sunlight, weather, and most microbes don’t break them down.
The orders Freedhoff described are one of many actions her office is taking to help implement the EPA’s three-year roadmap to control and study these chemicals that it released Oct. 18. Her comments came at an oversight hearing on the EPA’s implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA, as amended in 2016.
Money, Staff Needed
The full committee’s top Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), was among those who blasted the agency for blocking the nation’s economic success as it implements the chemicals law.
“We are in the midst of a domestic supply chain crisis. We cannot afford letting an inefficient and unreasonable TSCA implementation further devastate innovation and American competitiveness,” she said.
Rodgers and other Republicans raised concerns about the EPA’s growing regulation of manufactured goods, such as electrical equipment containing chemicals, and increased oversight over new chemicals that’s delaying their entry into commerce.
“I personally don’t believe innovation and safety are exclusive,” Freedhoff said.
But inadequate staff and resources are a problem, she said. “We estimate that we have less than 50% of the resources necessary to implement the new chemicals program as Congress had intended.”
“I was shocked to learn when I arrived at the agency that the EPA had never once made a budget request that meaningfully added any new funding to reflect its new statutory responsibilities,” Freedhoff said.
The president’s requested budget for the EPA includes a $15 million increase for chemical risk reviews and reductions, for a total of $75.5 million, which would allow the agency to add 90 employees.
An influx of money and staff would help the EPA carry out a crucial goal of TSCA: restoring public trust in the EPA’s oversight of chemicals, Freedhoff said.
“When the EPA says that a chemical found in products used in homes, schools and workplaces is safe, it is in everyone’s interest for the public to be able to believe us,” she said.
Coming Rules, Policies
The EPA plans to release in coming months its method of deciding whether communities living near industrial sites, landfills, and other sources of pollution face higher-than-average exposures to chemicals it’s reviewing, Freedhoff said.
The agency expects to send a proposed rule controlling chrysotile asbestos’ unreasonable risks to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for interagency review by years end, she said. That would mean the public could see the proposed rule early next year.
The EPA also plans to release by early next year its draft plans, or “scope,” to carry out a more complete analysis of the risks associated with additional forms of asbestos and historic uses of the cancer-causing mineral that result in ongoing exposures, she said.
Historic uses, such as the mineral remaining in insulation and other building materials, were omitted from the agency’s first analysis.