E.P.A. Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking a Decade Ago, New Files Show
The presence of PFAS in oil and gas extraction threatens to expose oilfield workers and first responders handling fires and spills, as well as people living near or downstream of drilling sites to a class of chemicals whose bonds are increasingly monitored. cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems.
A class of man-made chemicals that are toxic even in minute concentrations, for decades PFASs have been used to make products such as non-stick pans, stain-resistant rugs, and fire-fighting foam. These substances have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for their tendency to persist in the environment and accumulate inside the human body, as well as for their links to health issues like cancer. and birth defects. Congress and the Biden administration moved to better regulate PFAS, which contaminate the drinking water of 80 million Americans.
Industry researchers have long been aware of their toxicity. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when environmental lawyer Rob Bilott sued DuPont for polluting its Teflon plant in Parkersburg, Virginia, that the dangers of PFAS began to become widely known. In agreements with the EPA in the mid-2000s, DuPont acknowledged knowledge of the dangers of PFAS, and it and several other chemical manufacturers subsequently committed to phase out the use of certain types of chemicals. ‘by 2015.
Kevin A. Schug, professor of analytical chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the chemicals identified in the FracFocus database belong to the PFAS group of compounds, although he added that there are had insufficient information to establish a direct link between the chemicals in the database and those approved by the EPA. Still, he said it was clear “that the approved polymer, if it breaks down in the environment, will decompose into PFAS.”
The results highlight how, for decades, national laws governing various chemicals have allowed thousands of substances to be used commercially with relatively little testing. The EPA assessment was conducted under the Toxics Control Act 1976, which authorizes the agency to review and regulate new chemicals before they are manufactured or distributed.
But for years that law had loopholes that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals, experts say. In addition, the Toxic Substances Control Act granted acquired rights in thousands of chemicals already in commercial use, including many PFAS chemicals. In 2016, Congress strengthened the law, strengthening the EPA’s power to order health tests, among other measures. The Government Accountability Office, the oversight body of Congress, still identifies the Toxic Substances Control Act as a program with one of the highest risks of abuse and mismanagement.
In recent days, whistleblowers have alleged in The Intercept that the EPA’s toxic chemicals office tampered with assessments of dozens of chemicals to make them appear safer. EPA scientists evaluating new chemicals “are the last line of defense between harmful – even deadly – chemicals and their introduction into US commerce, and this line of defense struggles to maintain its integrity,” said the whistleblowers said in their disclosure, which was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Maryland-based nonprofit group.
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