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Editorial: EPA moving too slow on PFAS regs

Editorial: EPA moving too slow on PFAS regs

Feds need to treat contamination as the urgent health problem it is
Editorial: EPA moving too slow on PFAS regs
Photographer: bakdc/Shutterstock

When you’re considering whether a government agency is doing its job, ask yourself who benefits from what it’s doing — or not doing.

When one looks at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s half-hearted, procrastinatory plan laid out Thursday to begin the process of studying limits on industrial chemicals like PFAS, you realize its approach benefits big polluters at the expense of the health of citizens.

That’s an agency not doing its job.

That’s an agency working for the wrong people.

That’s a prison guard holding the gate open for an escaping prisoner. A firefighter refusing to turn a hose on a burning building while its occupants scream for help.

PFAS chemicals are used to create nonstick cooking surfaces and stain-free carpets, and have been found in drinking water supplies in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other places around the state. 

These compounds, which scientists say stay in the environment for decades, have been linked to all sorts of health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, colitis and high blood pressure.

Environmental groups and health organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are among those that claim the current health-advisory levels set for the chemicals by the EPA are far too lax and that they need to be made much more stringent to adequately protect public health.

But while there was some promise that the EPA would take action soon, its report issued Thursday indicates it plans to continue to drag its feet.

The agency plans to begin the process of setting legal drinking water limits on two PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS, by the end of the year. Officials would not say how long the process would take to put new limits into law.

It’s February, folks. But they expect the process will only begin by the end of the year, with an open-ended time line for when the regulations might be set.

Does that sound like the EPA is taking this problem seriously? Does it sound like it’s acting in our best interests?

In the meantime, the agency says it has “every intention” of enforcing the current federal advisory level for the chemicals that so many experts say is inadequate.

This paltry paw-waving should force New York state to redouble its efforts to set its own strict limits for PFAS contamination and compel other states through joint litigation to push the EPA ahead. 

When you’re the federal agency tasked with protecting the public’s health, you have an obligation to act, not to just stand by and let the dangers persist.

The end of the year is not soon enough to begin taking action.

The EPA needs to do its job and begin now to better regulate these chemicals.

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