The list of about 630 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that Bloomberg Law obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency through a Freedom of Information Act request identifies chemicals that were made, imported, mixed, or repackaged in the U.S. between June 2006 and June 2016.
Researchers, local and state regulators, and the public have asked for such a list to get a better picture of what PFAS chemicals are made or used in the U.S.
States around the country are developing policies to limit human and environmental exposure to the PFAS chemicals, some of which are persistent, meaning they don’t break down in the environment. Some PFAS cling to proteins in the human body for years and may cause health problems. Yet states lack chemical use, production, toxicity, and other information to help them determine which PFAS warrant their time and attention.
The EPA list focuses on chemicals “active” in commerce, as defined by a regulation (RIN: 2070-AK24) the agency was required to issue under the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments. The regulation is meant to help everyone involved know which of some 86,000 chemicals on the agency’s official inventory of compounds—most of which are not PFAS chemicals—are still produced, imported, or used in the U.S.
The list also can help identify information that’s often difficult to obtain, such as the level of the chemicals in workers’ blood samples.
Tool to Learn More
The EPA’s list includes Chemical Abstracts Service, or CAS, numbers for about 400 of the chemicals. Unlike chemical names, which often vary for the same compound, CAS numbers are specific to a single chemical.
California agencies, for example, can use CAS numbers to search internal, EPA, and other databases, said Karl Palmer, acting deputy director of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Consumer Products Program. Having a CAS number can help an agency identify companies that have made a chemical, where they made it, how it’s used, and the volume produced, he said.
The Safer Consumer Products Program could explore whether the PFAS are in lists the state has of ingredients in paints, varnishes, or other chemical mixtures, said André Algazi, chief of the chemical and product evaluation unit in the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. The program could also examine whether the chemicals are listed on safety data sheets, which provide workers information about the hazards of chemicals to which they may be exposed, Algazi said.
Both California officials said having the CAS and other information from the EPA’s list allows scientists to see how to fit together disparate pieces of a data, like pieces of a puzzle, to help CalEPA decide its priorities.
“The complete list of PFAS in commerce will enable impacted communities to demand more information about where these chemicals are produced, how they are released, and what effects they are having on human health and the environment,” said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization.
“For decades, industry has avoided oversight and regulation by withholding the most basic information about new PFAS chemicals,” he said. “Too often, the first time the public learns of a new PFAS is when it is detected in the environment or in our bodies.”
‘Proactive Steps’ Advised
The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, urged caution about using the list.
“Each PFAS chemistry is unique, with its own distinct properties and health and environmental profiles, further reinforcing that applying a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating these chemistries is neither scientifically accurate, nor appropriate,” council spokesman Tom Flanagin said.
William J. Walsh, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, echoed that perspective. He pointed to preliminary EPA information showing some PFAS are significantly less toxic than others and highlighting congressional testimony from federal health officials about the limited amount of toxicity or other information on most PFAS.
Despite the scientific uncertainty, research enabled by EPA’s list, combined with other resources, could prompt more litigation seeking answers about what users knew at different points in the manufacturing process, he said.
“With respect to what companies can do to prepare for litigation, measures include a careful assessment of potential liability and appropriate remediation efforts, engagement in the regulatory process at the state and federal level, and proactive steps to minimize liability,” Walsh said, citing a conclusion he and fellow partner Jane C. Luxton made in a recent article for the Washington Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm and policy center.
Some, including PFHxA, present negligible risk to people, according to the FluoroCouncil, a global group which includes AGC Inc., the Chemours Co., Daikin Industries Ltd., Archroma Management LLC, Dynax Corp., and Tyco Fire Products LP.
The fluoropolymers made with PFAS are vital to the energy, electronics, transportation, medical, and other industries, the FluoroCouncil said in an economic analysis. Switching to other chemicals that lack fluoropolymers’ combination of durability, reliability, lightness, and other special properties raises maintenance costs, energy use, and the health risks medical patients face, the analysis said.
3M and DuPont were the original companies developing and producing PFAS, dating to the 1940s. Chemicals made with the particular PFAS that 3M, DuPont, and Chemours, a Dupont spinoff, have produced have been used by hundreds of companies such as Wolverine World Wide, Inc. and W. L. Gore & Associates Inc. to make thousands of products, including semiconductors, sticky notes, and shoes.
Scientific studies of a few of these chemicals show they may increase cholesterol and the risk of cancer, among other health problems, according to an agency in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The original PFAS manufacturers, Chemours, and some companies using the chemicals are the subject of several major PFAS-related lawsuits.
3M, Chemours, and DuPont, were contacted after hours Tuesday and didn’t respond to inquiries about the usefulness and limitations of the information on the EPA’s list.
—With assistance from Sylvia Carignan