Communities Petition EPA to Regulate Hazardous PFAS Chemicals

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BERKELEY, CA— January 15, 2020

How are an indigenous tribal leader from an Arctic community, a North Carolina Sunday School teacher, a Michigan attorney, a Colorado community leader, and two suburban mothers from outside of Philadelphia united in an effort that could impact the drinking water and health of everyone in the U.S.?

Today they joined scientists from the Green Science Policy Institute in petitioning the EPA to list hundreds of PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated chemicals) as hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The petitioners are being represented by the University of California Berkeley Environmental Law Clinic.

For more than 40 years, toxic PFAS chemicals have been leaking from manufacturing sites, airports and military bases into drinking water around the country. The manufacturers and the military claim no liability because the chemicals have never been officially designated as hazardous substances by the U.S. EPA. Despite hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to health harms of these “forever chemicals” that will never break down in the environment, PFAS are not regulated by our nation’s waste disposal laws.

Until the chemicals are listed as hazardous under federal law, these contaminated communities and hundreds more —maybe yours—will not receive the clean-up assistance and other help they need.

“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 of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, 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.”

Emily Donovan, co-founder of the community group Clean Cape Fear in Wilmington, North Carolina, said, “I would never give my children mystery candy, why in the world are we allowing our children to drink mystery PFAS? Chemical manufacturers contaminated our water, our air and our soil with poisonous amounts of these compounds for decades—they even used our area as an international dumping ground. PFAS chemicals currently have no proven safe disposal method; researchers are finding even at trace amounts these toxics have harmful health effects.”

“We teach our children at an early age: if you make a mess, clean it up,” said Hope Grosse and Joanne Stanton, co-founders of the Buxmont [PA] Coalition for Safer Water. “The same goes for polluters, even the military.  By listing PFAS as hazardous wastes under RCRA, this petition will make polluters accountable for cleaning up.”

“I remember staying warm and dry with my Hush Puppy shoes, and being proud they were made in Rockford. But the community was unaware that some were drinking PFAS chemicals in their water at levels hundreds of times higher than the EPA says is safe,” said A. J. Birkbeck, Director of the PFAS Alliance, a group representing impacted communities in Michigan. PFAS chemicals were used to help make Hush Puppies water-repellent.

“Our goal is to relentlessly pursue justice and holding the contaminators responsible for the astronomical long-term filtration costs of our drinking water systems as this plume spreads,” said Liz Rosenbaum of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition. “Residents also deserve bio-medical monitoring to ensure early detection of compromised health conditions as a result of being poisoned.”

Listing under RCRA will subject the chemicals to strict storage, transfer, and disposal requirements. It would also result in automatic designation of these chemicals as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law, unlocking clean-up dollars to address contaminated sites.  “RCRA listing is a two-fer. It will ensure safer management of PFAS wastes, and will make it easier to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up PFAS-polluted sites,” said Claudia Polsky, Director of UC Berkeley’s Environmental Law Clinic. “The science is plentiful, and the health harm is undeniable. It’s time for the EPA to take prompt action.”

“PFAS-contaminated communities have been test subjects in an unintended and dangerous experiment,” said Tom Bruton, Senior Scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “We have more than enough data to know these chemicals are ending up in drinking water and posing a serious threat to public health and the environment. The EPA needs to clean up existing sites and work to prevent more communities from falling victim to contamination.”

Read the petition here.

Petitioners available for interviews:

RCRA expert available for interviews:

Tim Whitehouse, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 240.247.0299, [email protected]