Senior officials in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of Management and Budget have delayed the release of a toxicological study that could have recommended the federal government adopt a significantly lower threshold for exposure to several per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a category of manmade chemicals responsible for contaminating drinking water systems or groundwater supplies at more than 100 active and closed installations.
The draft study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was poised to recommend that the “minimal risk level” should be dropped to less than 12 parts per trillion (ppt) for two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, after finding that exposure above that level “could be dangerous for sensitive populations like infants and breastfeeding mothers,” reported MLive. In 2016, EPA established lifetime health advisory levels — which the agency does not have the authority to enforce — for PFOA and PFOS at 70 ppt.
Officials acted earlier this year to stop ATSDR, a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, from publishing its assessment of PFAS chemicals over concerns it would prompt a “public relations nightmare” for EPA and the Pentagon, according to emails from EPA that Politico obtained from the Union of Concerned Scientists. EPA’s move to suspend release of the study was necessary to help “ensure that the federal government is responding in a uniform way to our local, state, and congressional constituents and partners,” said Ryan Jackson, chief of staff to Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Three months after ATSDR initially planned to release the study, it remains unpublished and the agency says it has no schedule for releasing it for public comment, reported Politico. The release of the EPA emails comes one week ahead of a national leadership summit the agency is hosting in Washington to share information on efforts to characterize risks from PFAS and develop treatment strategies, and identity near-term actions to address challenges facing states and communities.
Air Force photo by Grace Nichols