Groups calling to have PFAS listed as hazardous chemicals by the EPA

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 4:06 PM AKST
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Alaska Community Action on Toxics, along with communities from the Lower 48, are petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated chemicals) as hazardous wastes.

The petitions are asking to have PFAS chemicals categorized as hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

A press release from the Green Science Policy Institute states that despite hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to health harms, PFAS chemicals are not regulated by our nation’s waste disposal laws.

“We live in one of the most remote and seemingly pristine places on the planet, yet our community-based research shows that our environment and people are contaminated with PFAS,” said Vi Waghiyi with Alaska Community Action on Toxics, in the release. Waghiyi is from the community of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea. “Why are our children born with birth defects and why are our people dying of cancer? We need to prevent these health disparities by stopping the contamination problems at their source so they don’t continue to contaminate our northern communities.”

Some common PFAS chemicals are found in firefighting foams, greaseproof food wrapping, non-stick cookware, and stain- and water- repellent carpets, textiles, and outdoor gear.

The Green Science Policy Institute says “listing under RCRA will subject the chemicals to strict storage, transfer, and disposal requirements. It would also result in the automatic designation of these chemicals as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law, unlocking clean-up dollars to address contaminated sites.”

Pam Miller, with Alaska Community Action on Toxics, says listing the chemicals as a hazardous material will help ensure communities affected by them will get help with cleanup.

"They're known as the Teflon chemicals, or the forever chemicals, because they just don't break down," Miller said.

There currently is no way to safely dispose of the chemicals, Miller says, short of storing them until such a process is developed.

"Right now they are virtually unregulated," Miller said. "Companies that manufacuture them, or companies or the military that use them don't have any restrictions on their release into the environment, into our drinking water, and they have profound effects on human health."

According the press release, until the chemicals are listed as hazardous under federal law communities effected will not receive the clean-up assistance and other help they need.

The Alaska Community Action on Toxics says the chemicals affect Native American traditional food sources such as caribou, fish, and marine mammals communities. As a result, communities that depend on the animals for their livelihood are left particularly vulnerable to harmful exposures.

This summer, Food and Drug Administration researchers said substantial levels of the worrisome class of nonstick, stain-resistant industrial compounds were found in some grocery store meats and seafood and in off-the-shelf chocolate cake.

Miller said she and her group are also planning to work with Alaska lawmakers to regulate the chemicals in the state of Alaska.

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