EPA to designate forever chemicals found in tap water as ‘hazardous substances’

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to designate ‘forever chemicals’ found in some tap water, food packaging and kitchenware as hazardous material as experts have learned in recent months that they are more dangerous than previous believed.

The EPA is proposing the new designation for the chemicals under the Superfund Act – a 1980 law set on removing hazardous material from the environment. Under the new designation, the regulatory agency will have more funds to track and clean the chemicals in rivers, lakes and other groundwater.

It comes as growing evidence shows the chemicals are much more dangerous than previously believed. Often found on non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing and in tap water and shampoo, increased research has emerged in recent months finding that exposure to the chemicals can lead to liver cancer, birth defects and more long-term health issues.

This will be the second major action taken by the EPA in recent months to combat forever chemicals. In June, the agency slashed the maximum amount allowed on a household product to meet safety standards by 99 percent in a drastic move to limit exposure.

'Forever chemicals' are often found on household products like non-stick cookware, water resistant clothing and some food packaging (file photo)

‘Forever chemicals’ are often found on household products like non-stick cookware, water resistant clothing and some food packaging (file photo)

‘This proposed rulemaking would increase transparency around releases of these harmful chemicals and help to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up their contamination,’ the EPA wrote in a statement. 

If accepted, localities will have to report high levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) chemicals immediately.

It would also open up access to funding designated to handling and cleaning these chemicals. The EPA has also used Superfund designations to chase down damages in court against parties believed to be responsible for contamination.

The EPA proposed the rule change Friday, citing ‘significant evidence that PFOA and PFOS may present a substantial danger to human health or welfare and the environment.’

Earlier this year, the agency unveiled the new guidance that no longer recommends drinking water with more than 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA and 0.02 ppt of PFOS.

Previous guidance had a maximum recommended amount of ppt at 70, a massive shift by America’s top environmental agency.

‘People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,’ Michael Regan, administrator of the EPA, said in a statement.

‘That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge.’

This is not the only agency to propose drastic action to combat contamination from these chemicals this month.

‘Forever chemicals’ on popular cooking products including non-stick pans could QUADRUPLE the risk of liver cancer

Synthetic chemicals common in food packaging and some kitchenware may quadruple the risk of cancer, a study warns.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), in Los Angeles, found ‘forever chemicals’ can increase a person’s risk of non-viral hepatocellular carcinoma — a common liver cancer.

People who had the most recorded exposure to the man-made toxins suffered up to a 4.5-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with the disease compared to those with the least.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns these chemicals are everywhere — from non-stick cookware, tap water, to seafood, waterproof clothing, cleaning products and even shampoo.

This study comes as part of a growing body of research showing the danger of these compounds that were relatively unknown until recent years.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cut the acceptable level in household products more than 99 percent in June.

Experts fear the damage may have already been done, however, and that many Americans could face significant health issues in the future.

‘Liver cancer is one of the most serious endpoints in liver disease and this is the first study in humans to show that PFAS are associated with this disease,’ Dr Jesse Goodrich, a postdoctoral scholar at USC said in a statement. 

A report published by a panel of experts in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recommends that people with a known exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – either through work or at home – be screened for traces of the chemicals in their blood and are given additional information on the potential long-term negative effects of the exposure. 

The experts warn that while not all exposure will lead to poor health outcomes, it is likely that nearly 100 percent of the U.S. population has been exposed.

‘Although not all of the contamination represents exceedances of health advisories, the pervasiveness of the contamination is alarming,’ the report says.

‘Furthermore, almost 100 percent of the US population is exposed to at least one PFAS.’

The panel recommend that people who have known exposure receive blood testing to look for traces of the chemicals.

These chemicals are in many products that Americans may interact with day-to-day. They are most famously in non-stick pots and pans, where they can contaminate food after reaching high heat.

They are also often found in some stain resistant and waterproof clothing and food packaging.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warns that the chemicals could contaminate tap water.

As a result, some livestock and crops that a person may eventually eat could be contaminated with the chemicals as well.

Some heat-insulating fast food packaging makes use of the dangerous chemicals as well.

Officials warn that many people may have has increased exposure to the chemicals through the workplace as well, particularly those who work at an airport, military base or wastewater treatment plant.

This type of increased exposure can be incredibly dangerous. The chemicals can blunt a person’s antibody responses to some sicknesses, increasing their risk of severe complications or death.

It is also tied to multiple cancers, like breast, testicular and kidney. A mother with significant exposure to the chemicals could pass it on to a child when they give birth. She is also more likely to have a failed pregnancy.

While the reductions will help avoid more exposures in the future, the NASEM piece discusses what more needs to be done to help those already afflicted.

The panel is calling for the CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to update its guidance regarding these exposures.

First, those with a known exposure – especially through the workplace – should be blood tested to test for forever chemicals.

Those who are found to be at risk of health defects down the line because of the exposure should be informed so, and made aware of what they should watch out for with their health.

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