The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a nationwide plan to require water utilities to test drinking water for 28 contaminants currently unregulated by federal law, including six perfluorinated chemicals, a family of toxic industrial chemicals found widely in consumer products.
The agency’s announcement represents a major step forward in the government’s efforts to understand and control pollution from perfluorochemicals (PFCs), synthetic industrial chemicals that have been used in a wide variety of stain-repellent textile coatings, non-stick cookware and water and grease-resistant coatings. This contamination, believed to emanate from unregulated industrial discharges, coating residues that wear and wash off consumer goods and leaching of perfluorochemical materials disposed in landfills, could pose a serious threat to public health.
Perfluorochemicals, which do not break down in the environment, pollute drinking water and source water in at least 11 states, according to limited investigations by state water agencies, academic scientists, businesses and journalists. No comprehensive survey has ever been conducted to document the extent of PFC pollution in drinking water nationwide.
“Perfluorochemicals have been mainstays of the chemical industry, widely used in consumer products, for 60 years,” EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., said. “Efforts to learn the full scope of PFC pollution in the nation’s drinking water are long overdue. EPA’s new water testing proposal will help illuminate one of the more troubling environmental problems this country faces.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found PFCs in the bodies of virtually all Americans over the age of 12. EWG’s biomonitoring tests of cord blood sample from 10 infants born in the U.S. in 2007 and 2007 found that all 10 newborns had been exposed to PFCs in the womb
Environmental Working Group has campaigned for eight years to restrict perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely human carcinogen, endocrine-disrupting chemical and reproductive toxin that for 50 years was widely used to make common non-stick and grease-proof coatings on cookware, food packaging, clothing, furniture and other popular products. As a result of pressure from EWG and other health advocates, in 2006, EPA and eight major makers of PFOA agreed on a voluntary phase-out to eliminate virtually all U.S. sources of the chemical by 2015. But PFOA is still used in factories in China and other countries and may be trace contaminant in imported cookware and other consumer products available on the U.S. market. Products made with PFOA and are in use today can leach the chemical over time.
Another perfluorchemical on the EPA testing list, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), linked to cancer in lab animals and developmental toxicity, was used in Scotchgard and other fabric coatings until 2000, when 3M, the only U.S. manufacturer of the chemical, accepted a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to phase it out.
Some PFC contamination in water has been documented during investigations of unauthorized industrial discharges. The EPA plan represents a key step that would help define the full scope of contamination and would help regulators protect water sources from these pollutants.
EPA expects to publish a final list of contaminants to be tracked under the new monitoring program next year. Testing is expected to start in 2013.
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