US moves to tackle forever chemicals

Campaigners have welcomed a decision by the US Congress to devote more money to tackle the rising threat of “forever chemicals”.

This week a House subcommittee approved $126 million in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget for fiscal year 2023 to address the forever chemicals known as PFAS.

If enacted, the funding would represent a 70 percent increase over, what The Environmental Working Group described as “the paltry sum” of $74 million currently in the EPA budget for tackling PFAS contamination nationwide. This would also be the highest level of funding ever provided to the agency to address the PFAS crisis.

“Just last week, the EPA announced infinitesimally low levels for PFAS in drinking water in new lifetime health advisories,” said John Reeder, EWG’s vice president for federal affairs. “These ‘forever chemicals’ are much more toxic than previously thought. All agencies must redouble efforts to protect people from exposure to PFAS in our water and food.”

PFAS are a large family of fluorinated chemicals. PFAS are found in the blood of virtually everyone, including new-born babies. Very low doses of the chemicals in drinking water have been linked to suppression of the immune system, including interference with vaccines. These chemicals harm the development and reproductive system, such as reduced birth weight and impacts on fertility; increase the risk of certain cancers; affect the metabolism, such as changes in cholesterol and weight gain; and increase cholesterol and other serious health concerns.

PFAS are estimated to contaminate the drinking water of more than 200 million people. They are known as forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment and they build up in our organs.

The PFAS funding as part of EPA’s full year 2023 spending bill was announced by subcommittee chair Democrat, Chellie Pingree.

“EWG applauds chair Pingree and the subcommittee for taking historic action and making PFAS funding a priority,” added Reeder. “We urge the Appropriations Committee and the House to follow the subcommittee’s lead. Communities have waited too long for action on PFAS.”

The non-profit organisation, which seeks to promote better health for the US, said subcommittee approval is the first step toward passage of a bill that will provide FY 2023 funding for the EPA and other agencies. The budget bill must next pass out of the full Appropriations Committee before it can be considered on the House floor, followed by Senate action.

“The funding is urgently needed,” explained EWG. “Next year, public water systems will start to test water for 29 PFAS compounds as part of the EPA’s fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR 5. The new test results will give the agency critically needed data to improve its understanding of how pervasive these compounds are in U.S. drinking water and at what levels.”

“The Biden administration asked Congress to approve more funding for the EPA as part of its pledge to tackle PFAS,” it added. “President Joe Biden made PFAS a priority in his FY 2023 budget request. As part of the administration’s effort, the EPA published a PFAS strategic roadmap in October 2021 that details several action plans and milestones.

“Yet the agency has fallen behind on over half the commitments it made just months ago. Another 10 milestones are coming due this summer and fall.”