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Reaction Mixed to Biden $75M ‘Forever Chemicals’ Budget Ask (3)

April 9, 2021, 3:51 PMUpdated: April 9, 2021, 8:57 PM

The $75 million that President Joe Biden seeks for next year to study “forever chemicals” and help states deal with contamination is sparking mixed reactions among environmental groups demanding federal action and support from the chemical industry.

A summary of Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request released Friday says the administration seeks about $75 million “to accelerate toxicity studies and research to inform the regulatory development of designating PFAS as hazardous substances.”

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a large group of chemicals. Some linger for years in people’s bodies and the environment, build up in the food chain, and are toxic.

The $75 million also would help the Environmental Protection Agency set enforceable drinking water standards and provide technical assistance grants to states and local governments dealing with PFAS contamination, the budget summary said.

That request compares to the roughly $65 million the EPA received in its fiscal year 2021 appropriations for PFAS actions throughout the agency, according to information it provided.

The request would be a $26 million bump compared to $49 million in the fiscal 2021 appropriations bill provided the EPA’s scientific, regulatory, grant-making and cleanup work on PFAS, according to information from the Environmental Working Group, which has brought attention to PFAS since the mid-2000s.

The $75 million also is just one example of the administration’s planned PFAS investment, the Office of Management and Budget said by email. Details will be released later this spring.

In addition to the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are among the federal agencies that can regulate various uses of PFAS. Department of Defense facilities are among the federal agency sites contaminated with PFAS.

Initial Support

The American Chemistry Council, which represents the bulk of the U.S. chemical manufacturing capacity, is eager for details, but supported the research that the request would fund.

There are thousands of PFAS, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Individual chemicals “have their own unique properties and uses, as well as environmental and health profiles,” council spokesman Tom Flanagin said.

“A priority of ours throughout the process will be helping policymakers understand the important differences between these chemistries,” he said.

Environmental groups both praised the request and voiced concerns about the $75 million.

“It’s great news that EPA is proceeding with efforts to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, as President Biden pledged during the campaign,” said Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president for government affairs.

‘Action, Not Study’

But Patrick MacRoy, deputy director at Defend Our Health, which works on PFAS and other issues from its Portland, Maine, headquarters, voiced concerns.

“We’re well past the time of needing more research in order to declare PFAS as a class hazardous substances or to establish a truly health protective [maximum contaminant level] for drinking water,” he said.

At least two farms in Maine have been shuttered due to PFAS contamination.

“The farmers here in Maine who have lost their livelihoods and all the families drinking contaminated water from their wells can assure you that PFAS is a problem that requires action, not study,” he said.

While funding to help states is helpful and welcome, “frankly, we could easily spend $75 million in Maine alone and still not ‘tackle’ PFAS pollution,” MacRoy said.

(Updated with EPA appropriations for PFAS in fiscal year 2021 in the fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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