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GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: After decades of disinformation, the US finally begins regulating PFAS chemicals
GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: After decades of disinformation, the US finally begins regulating PFAS chemicals

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would regulate two forms of PFAS contamination under Superfund laws reserved for “the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites.”EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the action will ensure that “polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities.”That was an encore to the Food and Drug Administration announcing in February that companies will phase out food packaging with PFAS wrappings and the mid-April announcement by Regan that the EPA was establishing the first-ever federal limits on PFAS in drinking water. At that time, he declared, “We are one huge step closer to finally shutting off the tap on forever chemicals once and for all.”One can forever hope the tap will be eventually shut, since it took seemingly forever for the nation to begin to crack down on this class of per-and polyfluoroalkyl synthetic chemicals. The chemical bonds of PFAS, among the strongest ever created, resulted in an incredible ability to resist heat, moisture, grease and stains. PFAS chemicals seemed like miracle substances in the 20th-century quest for convenience. They became ubiquitous in household furnishings, cookware, cosmetics, and fast-food packaging, and a key component of many firefighting foams. “We are one huge step closer to finally shutting off the tap on forever chemicals once and for all.” - EPA Administrator Michael Regan The bonds are so indestructible they would impress Superman. They don’t break down in the environment for thousands of years, hence the “forever” nickname. Unfortunately for humans, the same properties represent Kryptonite. Today, the group of chemicals known as PFAS is the source of one of the greatest contaminations of drinking water in the nation’s history. Flowing from industrial sites, landfills, military bases, airports, and wastewater treatment discharges, PFAS chemicals, according to the United States Geological Survey, are detectable in nearly half our tap water. Other studies suggest that a majority of the U.S. population drinks water containing PFAS chemicals—as many as 200 million people, according to a 2020 peer-reviewed study conducted by the Environmental Working Group. PFAS chemicals are everywhereNo one escapes PFAS chemicals. They make it into the kitchen or onto the dining room table in the form of non-stick cookware, microwave popcorn bags, fast-food burger wrappers, candy wrappers, beverage cups, take-out containers, pastry bags, French-fry and pizza boxes. They reside throughout homes in carpeting, upholstery, paints, and solvents.They are draped on our bodies in “moisture-wicking” gym tights, hiking gear, yoga pants, sports bras, and rain and winter jackets. They are on our feet in waterproof shoes and boots. Children have PFAS in baby bedding and school uniforms. Athletes of all ages play on PFAS on artificial turf. PFAS chemicals are on our skin and gums through eye, lip, face cosmetics, and dental floss. Firefighters have it in their protective clothing.As a result, nearly everyone in the United States has detectable levels of PFAS in their bodies. There is no known safe level of human exposure to these chemicals. They are linked to multiple cancers, decreased fertility in women, developmental delays in children, high cholesterol, and damage to the cardiovascular and immune systems. A 2022 study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Sichuan University in China estimated that exposure to one form of PFAS (PFOS, for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), may have played a role in the deaths of more than 6 million people in the United States between 1999 and 2018.As sweeping as PFAS contamination is, exposures in the United States are also marked by clear patterns of environmental injustice and a betrayal to military families. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that people of color and low-income people were more likely to live near non-military sources of PFAS contamination than wealthier, white people.Another study by UCS found that 118 of 131 military bases had PFAS contamination concentrations at least 10 times higher than federal risk levels. A federal study last year found a higher risk of testicular cancer for Air Force servicemen engaged in firefighting with PFAS foams.Tobacco-like disinformationIn the end, the whole nation was betrayed, in a manner straight out of the tobacco disinformation playbook. Behind the image of convenience, manufacturers long knew that PFAS chemicals were toxic. Internal documents uncovered over the years show how DuPont and 3M, the two biggest legacy makers of PFAS, knew back in the 1960s that the compounds built up in blood and enlarged the livers of laboratory animals. By 1970, a DuPont document referring to a PFAS chemical under its famed “Teflon” trademark said that it “is highly toxic when inhaled and moderately toxic when injected.”By the late 1970s, DuPont was discovering that PFAS chemicals were affecting the liver of workers and that plant employees were having myocardial infarctions at levels “somewhat higher than expected.” But that did not stop the industry from downplaying the risk to workers.One internal 3M document in 1980 claimed that PFAS chemicals have “a lower toxicity like table salt.” Yet, a study last year of documents by researchers at the University of California San Francisco and the University of Colorado found that DuPont, internally tracking the outcome of worker pregnancies in 1980 and 1981, recorded two cases of birth defects in infants. Yet, in 1981, in what the researchers determined was a “joint” communication to employees of DuPont and 3M, the companies claimed: “We know of no evidence of birth defects” at DuPont and were “not knowledgeable about the pregnancy outcome” of employees at 3M who were exposed to PFAS. The same suppression and disinformation kept government regulators at bay for decades. The San Francisco and Colorado researchers found internal DuPont documents from 1961 to 1994 showing toxicity in animal and occupational studies that were never reported to the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act. As one example, DuPont, according to a 2022 feature by Politico’s Energy and Environment News, successfully negotiated in the 1960s with the Food and Drug Administration to keep lower levels of PFAS-laden food wrapping and containers on the market despite evidence of enlarged livers in laboratory rats.A patchwork responseEventually, the deception and lies exploded in the face of the companies, as independent scientists found more and more dire connections to PFAS in drinking water and human health and lawsuits piled up in the courts. Last year, 3M agreed to a settlement of between $10.5 billion and $12.5 billion for PFAS contamination in water systems around the nation. DuPont and other companies agreed to another $1.2 billion in settlements. That’s not nothing, but it is a relatively small price to pay for two industrial behemoths that have been among the Fortune 500 every year since 1955.In the last two decades, the continuing science on PFAS chemicals and growing public concern has led to a patchwork of individual apparel and food companies to say they will stop using PFAS in clothes and wrapping. Some states have enacted their own drinking water limits and are moving forward with legislation to restrict or ban products containing PFAS. In 2006, the EPA began a voluntary program in which the leading PFAS manufacturers in the United States agreed to stop manufacturing PFOA, one of the most concerning forms of PFAS.But companies had a leisurely decade to meet commitments. Even as companies negotiated, a DuPont document assumed coziness with the EPA. “We need the EPA to quickly (like first thing tomorrow) say the following: Consumer products sold under the Teflon brand are safe. . .there are no human health effects to be caused by PFOA [a chemical in the PFAS family].”Two years ago, 3M announced it will end the manufacture of PFAS chemicals and discontinue their application across its portfolio by the end of next year. But the company did so with an insulting straight face, saying on its products are “safe and effective for their intended uses in everyday life.”EPA action finally, but more is neededThe nation can no longer accept the overall patchwork or industry weaning itself off PFAS at its own pace. The EPA currently plans to issue drinking water limits for six forms of PFAS and place two forms under Superfund jurisdiction. The Superfund designation gives the government its strongest powers to enforce cleanups that would be paid for by polluters instead of taxpayers.”But there are 15,000 PFAS compounds, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. There is nothing to stop companies from trying to play around with other compounds that could also prove harmful. Cleaning up the PFAS chemicals that have already been allowed will take billions of dollars and water utilities around the country are already screaming, with some justification, that the federal government needs to provide more money than it is offering. And even the Superfund designation does not actually ban their use.It would be better if the United States were to follow the lead of the European Union, which is now considering a ban or major restrictions on the whole class of chemicals, fearing that “without taking action, their concentrations will continue to increase, and their toxic and polluting effects will be difficult to reverse.”The effects are scary to quantify. Regan said in his drinking water announcement that the new rules would improve water quality for 100 million people and “prevent thousands of deaths and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses across the country.” A draft EPA economic analysis last year predicted that tight standards could save more than 7,300 lives alone from bladder cancer, kidney cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and avoid another 27,000 non-fatal cases of those diseases.That makes it high time that the federal government borrow from DuPont’s arrogant assumption that it could push around the EPA. We need the EPA to quickly (like first thing tomorrow) say the following: Consumer products with PFAS are not safe and are causing unacceptable environmental consequences. We are shutting off the tap on ALL of them.”

GoGreenNation News: EPA lists 2 common "forever chemicals" as Superfund hazardous substances
GoGreenNation News: EPA lists 2 common "forever chemicals" as Superfund hazardous substances

Two toxic, widely used "forever chemicals" are now classified as hazardous substances under a new rule that the Biden administration finalized on Friday. Why it matters: The rule, under the federal Superfund law, will require companies to report any leaks of the two chemicals and will allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold polluters accountable by forcing them to clean up their contamination.The rule builds on other recent actions that the Biden administration has taken to curb per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollution.The EPA recently announced the first-ever drinking water standards targeting some of the synthetic compounds.What they're saying: "Designating these chemicals under our Superfund authority will allow EPA to address more contaminated sites, take earlier action, and expedite cleanups, all while ensuring polluters pay for the costs to clean up pollution threatening the health of communities," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on Friday.The other side: The American Chemical Council, which represents major PFAS producers, in a statement on Friday said it "strongly" opposes the EPA's action.It claimed the federal action was based on "severely flawed" science and was an "unworkable means to achieve remediation for these chemicals."Threat level: PFAS are dubbed "forever chemicals" because they resist degradation by repelling oil and water and withstanding high temperatures.Used extensively in nonstick, water- and oil-repellent and fire-resistant industrial and consumer products, PFAS can bioaccumulate in people, livestock, wildlife and fish if they enter the environment and water sources.The health effects of the chemicals are still being studied, but exposure to certain levels of PFAS has been linked to adverse health effects in humans and animals, including increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.Driving the news: The EPA's new rule only applies to two specific types of PFAS — PFOA and PFOS — but there are over 12,000 different types of PFAS. While PFOA and PFOS have been the most widely used PFAS throughout history, they are no longer produced in the U.S., as chemical manufacturers and other companies have turned to other PFAS in recent years.However, PFOA and PFOS are still produced internationally and can be imported into the U.S. in consumer goods.Because there are so many PFAS, multiple Environmental groups have called on the EPA to regulate the substances as a class instead of taking action against individual chemicals.Zoom out: PFAS contamination is extensive throughout the U.S., with federal studies suggesting that the chemicals can be detected in almost half of the nation's tap water.Private studies have also shown widespread PFAS contamination in water systems, while other research has indicated that people living in Hispanic and Black communities are disproportionately exposed to PFAS. Since 1999, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists have consistently detected multiple PFAS in blood serum samples from nearly all people who take part in its annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.The big picture: In recent years, major chemical producers have agreed to pay billions to settle claims from U.S. water providers over their production and handling of PFAS.Other companies, like fast food corporations, have begun making promises to phase out the use of PFAS in their products.Several research teams in the U.S. and around the world are searching for new ways to destroy forever chemicals and filter them from water systems.Go deeper: EPA unveils new rules to curb toxic emissions at U.S. chemical plantsEditor's note: This story was updated with comment from The American Chemical Council.

GoGreenNation News: Q&A: Award-winning scientist Anne Starling on the latest PFAS research— and where she finds hope
GoGreenNation News: Q&A: Award-winning scientist Anne Starling on the latest PFAS research— and where she finds hope

EHN senior news editor Brian Bienkowski saw down with Dr. Anne Starling, winner of the 2023 Lou Guillette Jr Outstanding Young Investigator Award, to discuss her work on PFAS and other toxics, how this has shaped her consumer habits, and where she finds hope. The Lou Guillette Jr. Outstanding Young Investigator Award is an annual award given to an early career scientist who studies endocrine-disrupting chemicals — compounds like BPA and phthalates that alter the proper functioning of our hormones. Starling, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health, studies how chemical exposures, such as PFAS in drinking water, may increase the risk of chronic disease. The award is conducted by HEEDS — a program within Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes EHN.org. We talked to Starling about the award and her work. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. First off, congrats on the 2023 Lou Guillette Jr. Outstanding Young Investigator Award. Where in your academic and research journey did you start investigating endocrine-disrupting chemicals?Thank you. I’m very honored by this award because I admire the work of HEEDS and also what I know of Dr. Guillette’s legacy as a scientist and a mentor. I’ve always been interested in environmental health, in how humans are influencing the natural environment, and how our own health may be affected by the way we construct and modify our environment. I began studying exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals when I was a graduate student in epidemiology at UNC Chapel Hill. I was fortunate to work with mentors both at UNC and at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). At NIEHS, I worked with Dr. Jane Hoppin on the question of how exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase diabetes risk. Later, for my dissertation project, I worked with Dr. Stephanie Engel at UNC and Dr. Matthew Longnecker at NIEHS to investigate how exposure to certain persistent chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS) during pregnancy can affect the health of the pregnant person and the outcome of the pregnancy.What is something you’ve uncovered in your time investigating these harmful chemicals that most people would find surprising?Many people that I talk to assume that chemical products that are widely used in the U.S. have gone through comprehensive safety testing, similar to what is required for prescription drugs and other medical treatments. But this is simply not the case. In our regulatory environment, the burden is on the regulators to demonstrate harm from exposure to chemicals, rather than a more precautionary approach. And it may surprise many people to know just how long it takes to accumulate enough scientific evidence to change policy. This is not necessarily due to any kind of conspiracy or political influence, but simply because science is slow, meticulous, and deliberate. It takes years to be confident that we have the right answers.Some of your research has focused on PFAS in drinking water and its impact on developing fetuses. What have you found?Yes, I’ve studied the effects of prenatal exposure to PFAS for several years now.There are now many studies that have reported that pregnant people with higher PFAS in their blood have babies that have, on average, somewhat lower weight at birth. This is concerning because we know that babies with low birth weight have a number of health challenges that may last throughout their lives. And even though the effects of PFAS exposure on birth weight may be small at the individual level, the impact could be large from a public health perspective because nearly everyone in the U.S. is exposed to these chemicals. My work has examined whether PFAS exposures at critical periods of development are linked with different patterns of child growth, that could potentially put them at greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. We’ve seen some evidence that exposures before birth may influence child growth, body weight and body composition (the amount of fat mass compared to lean body mass) through at least the age of school entry, and maybe longer.When we think of pollution exposure, we often think of acute impacts, but that’s not always the case. What have you found when it comes to endocrine-disrupting chemicals’ ability to create long-lasting impacts to our health?In general, we know a lot more about the acute effects of high doses of toxic chemicals than we know about the chronic or long-term effects of the low doses received daily by the general population. It’s challenging to study changes in people’s health related to exposures over many years, and that’s why epidemiology as a field is so interesting to me – we spend a lot of time thinking a bout how to overcome the challenges of observational research to draw valid and useful conclusions. When you don’t have a randomized controlled trial -which we almost never do in environmental health, for obvious ethical reasons –you have to be very strategic and rigorous in your study design to learn whether a certain exposure is actually causing harm.Has doing this research changed how you act as a consumer? If it has, how so?I think so. I am more wary of the chemical products that I bring into my home. I’m definitely a label-reader! But a major lesson that I have learned through this work is that we are not empowered as consumers to be able to avoid harmful chemicals in our daily lives. There are no ingredient labels on most of the products that we encounter every day, such as food packaging, clothing, furniture, and even the building materials and paint in our homes. It’s impossible for an individual to make well-informed decisions about all of these products. So rather than making recommendations about consumer choices, I advocate for policy changes to make sure that products that are known to be unsafe are not sold to consumers.What research are you working on now that excites you?In terms of impact, I’m excited to be contributing to a large, multi-site study of the health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking water, led by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The study enrolled people from seven communities around the country, who all experienced high levels of PFAS in their drinking water at some point. I worked in one of these communities in Colorado for several years, and I have seen the level of worry and frustration that these contamination events can cause. It’s gratifying to be able to tell people who participated in these studies that we are now on the verge of having enforceable, national regulations on the maximum allowable amount of specific PFAS in drinking water. Scientifically, I’m also excited to be investigating other sensitive periods of exposure during the life course, beyond prenatal development. For example, puberty, pregnancy and menopause are dramatic periods of hormonal and physiological change, and they may also be critical windows during which exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can cause lasting harm.We are consistently hearing about the chemical exposures in our lives and it can be daunting. What gives you hope when it comes to these exposures and our health?We are more educated than ever before about the trade-offs that we face in our industrial society. And we do make progress. Just think about how much healthier our children’s lives may be because they aren’t exposed to as much tobacco smoke or lead compared to previous generations. The science is moving at a remarkable pace, and we have to commit to adapting and changing as we learn more.

GoGreenNation News: Everything you need to know for the fourth round of global plastic pollution treaty talks
GoGreenNation News: Everything you need to know for the fourth round of global plastic pollution treaty talks

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international, legally binding plastic pollution treaty will take place from April 23 to April 29 in Ottawa, Canada.In the first three sessions of treaty talks, negotiators from about 175 countries — along with industry representatives, environmentalists and others — met to advance a treaty to address global plastic pollution. What’s at stake in the plastic treaty talks? The plastic crisis is threatening both the planet and human and wildlife health. Global plastic waste is set to almost triple by 2060.The world generates roughly 400 million tons of plastic waste each year.Less than 10% of plastic ever made has been recycled. The treaty is the first international attempt to address this. What’s the state of the plastic treaty? Consensus was elusive at the last round of talks in Kenya. There is a High Ambition Coalition of countries that wants an end to plastic pollution by 2040. There is also a Global Coalition for Plastics Sustainability — largely nations economically reliant on fossil fuels such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Cuba, China and Bahrain — that has positioned itself as the counterbalance to the High Ambition Coalition and is pushing for a larger focus on addressing plastic waste (via chemical and mechanical recycling and other means) rather than plastic bans or production limits. The U.S. is not part of either. Some sticking points include: Regulating the chemicals in plastic productionPlastic production capsThe role of chemical recycling and bioplastics Where can I learn more about the plastic treaty?You can see all of the details of the upcoming treaty meeting at the UN Environment Programme website. Want to learn more broadly about the treaty and how plastic pollution impacts our health? Our newsroom has been hard at work on exploring these issues. Below we have articles to help you understand the treaty process and progress, plastic impacts to our health and chemical recycling and bioplastics.And follow our newsroom on X, Instagram or Facebook to stay up-to-date on this historic treaty.Plastic treaty coverage “Plastic will overwhelm us:” Scientists say health should be the core of global plastic treaty Opinion: Pete Myers discusses the "Health Scientists' Global Plastic Treaty" Plastics treaty draft underway, but will the most impacted countries be included? Opinion: UN plastics treaty should prioritize health and climate change Op-Ed: How the United Nations could avoid silencing voices during Plastic Treaty negotiations Scientists: US needs to support a strong global agreement to curb plastic pollutionPlastic and our healthWhat is plastic pollution? Plastic chemicals are more numerable and less regulated than previously thought Recycling plastics “extremely problematic” due to toxic chemical additives Every stage of plastic production and use is harming human health Massive new database on how plastic chemicals harm our healthChemical recycling and bioplasticsWhat is chemical recycling? Bioplastics: sustainable solution or distraction from the plastic waste crisis? Chemical recycling grows — along with concerns about its environmental impacts This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling Chemical recycling “a dangerous deception” for solving plastic pollution: Report Paused Ohio chemical recycling plant puts spotlight on Appalachia as “prime target” for the controversial practice Residents fear Pennsylvania, West Virginia chemical recycling proposals will deepen fossil fuel ties and pollution problems Q&A: Director of sustainability at Eastman Chemical Company talks chemical recyclingLatest chemical recycling plant closing spurs concern over the industry’s viability

GoGreenNation News: Companies Legally Use Poison to Make Your Decaf Coffee
GoGreenNation News: Companies Legally Use Poison to Make Your Decaf Coffee

Do you drink decaffeinated coffee? Are you aware that it’s often made by applying a chemical so dangerous it was banned for use in paint stripper five years ago? And are you aware that companies think banning this chemical is really, really unfair?This week the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule prohibiting all but “critical” uses of methylene chloride, a highly toxic liquid that is believed to have killed at least 88 people since 1980—mostly workers refinishing bathtubs or doing other home renovations. Methylene chloride can cause liver damage and is linked to multiple cancers, among other health effects. Amazingly, while the EPA banned its sale for paint stripping in 2019 for this reason, it continues to be used for a lot of other purposes. And one of those is decaffeinating coffee, because the Food and Drug Administration decided in the 1980s that the risk to coffee drinkers was low given how the coffee was processed.The EPA’s ban on noncritical use of methylene chloride is one of many rules the Biden administration has announced or finalized ahead of the Congressional Review Act deadline. (The CRA, essentially, makes it easier for an unfriendly Congress to nix any administrative regulations finalized in the last 60 days of a legislative session.) A lot of the recently announced rules ban or curtail toxic substances that have made their way into everyday life and are poisoning people. The EPA has limited long-lasting chemicals called PFAS in drinking water, requiring water utilities within five years to build treatment systems that remove it. The agency has categorized two types of PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, requiring manufacturers to monitor whether they’ve been released into the environment and, if so, clean them up. It has also—finally—fully banned asbestos. It’s finalized a rule to further restrict fine particulate pollution in the air, which has been linked to heart disease, heart attacks, asthma, low birth weight, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia. It’s in the process of finalizing a rule reducing lead in drinking water, which would require the replacement of lead pipes throughout the nation.Banning poison is good politics. As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, while only 47 percent of respondents in a recent CBS News poll supported reentering the Paris climate agreement, 70 percent said they supported reducing toxic chemicals in drinking water. That’s consistent with other polls showing that a majority of people think the federal government is doing too little to protect “lakes, rivers and streams,” and that an overwhelming majority of people—even 68 percent of Republicans—believe the federal government should play some role in “addressing differences across communities in their health risks from pollution and other environmental problems.”But every single time one of these rules is announced, companies and industry groups respond with the most ridiculous statements. Let’s look at just a few recent examples.“A group of coffee makers against banning methylene chloride,” Boston radio station WBUR reported in early April, “recently wrote the FDA saying, ‘True coffee aficionados in blind tastings’ prefer coffee decaffeinated with the chemical.” Who knows how this study was done—“True coffee aficionados” are not known for preferring decaf, period, hence a recent P.R. push to improve decaf’s image. Nick Florko, a reporter for health news website Stat, told WBUR that the coffee makers’ letter to the FDA was a “pretty funny claim if you consider the fact that we’re talking about coffee here that’s essentially rinsed in paint thinner.” And this says nothing at all about what happens to workers involved in the decaffeination process. (Methylene chloride has previously been shown to poison even trained workers wearing protective gear.)National Coffee Association president William Murray said something even weirder, telling CNN via email that banning methylene chloride “would defy science and harm American[s’] health.” His logic appeared to be that since all coffee consumption, including decaf, shows signs of reducing cancer risk overall, it’s not really a problem to decaffeinate coffee using a known carcinogen. That’s loopy even for industry pushback. For one thing, it’s easy to imagine that coffee could be good in general, and less good if you add poison to it. For another, coffee can also be decaffeinated without methylene chloride, using only water. Now let’s look at PFAS pushback. Knowing the EPA rules were in progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in March launched the “Essential Chemistry for America” initiative, with the goal of “protecting ‘forever chemicals’ it deems ‘critical,’” according to E&E News. “We’re increasingly concerned that overly broad regulatory approaches threaten access to modern fluorochemistries, so we’re taking action to ensure their availability,” chamber vice president Marty Durbin said. Given that “access” language is typically used in a social and environmental justice context, restyling the regulation of poisons as threatening “access to modern fluorochemistries” is gutsy, to say the least. The private water industry is meanwhile throwing a fit about being asked to filter out PFAS. The rule will “throw public confidence in drinking water into chaos,” Mike McGill, president of water industry communications firm WaterPIO, told the AP. (You’d think the existence of PFAS in the water is what would tank public confidence, not the requirement that it be removed.) Then there’s the common threat from private water utilities—which, remember, turn a profit off providing a substance people can’t live without—that removing PFAS will increase people’s water bills. Robert Powelson, the head of the National Association of Water Companies, said that the costs of the federal regulation “will disproportionately fall on water and wastewater customers,” according to The Washington Post. “Water utilities do not create or produce PFAS chemicals,” Powelson added. “Yet water systems and their customers are on the front lines of paying for the cleanup of this contamination.”It’s true enough that water utilities are not the ones creating PFAS chemicals. On the other hand, there are lots of water contaminants that water utilities are responsible for filtering out if they want to keep making money from providing people with drinking water. Is there really any reason PFAS shouldn’t be among them? Saying that the cost of this regulation “will disproportionately fall on water and wastewater customers” shouldn’t be read as an expression of sympathy for disadvantaged households. The burden will fall on customers because the utilities will make sure of it. It’s a threat, and one that doesn’t mention the federal money from the Inflation Reduction Act that is being made available to help shoulder that burden. Those funds may well fall short, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re paying for-profit entities to transition to removing something they ought to have been filtering out long ago. And even if this federal rule hadn’t been made, companies would probably have to start removing PFAS anyway, because they are facing increasingly expensive lawsuits over not doing so. (The water utilities, in turn, are suing polluters to cover remediation costs—another source of funding.)It’s worth emphasizing what PFAS chemicals actually do to people, particularly in light of the American Water Works Association’s assertion to the AP that the cost of removing the chemicals “can’t be justified for communities with low levels of PFAS.” Researchers are now pretty sure that PFAS exposure increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Studying people in northern Italy who drank PFAS-contaminated water, researchers also saw increased rates of kidney and testicular cancer. The Guardian report on this contained this disturbing finding too: Women with multiple children had lower levels of PFAS only because pregnancy transferred PFAS into their children’s bodies instead.Don’t let that get in the way of a good comms statement from industry groups, though. Remember: Forcing companies even to report their PFAS pollution, or remove PFAS from the water, is unfair.Good News/Bad NewsTwenty-nine-year-old Andrea Vidaurre has won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in environmental justice, pushing California to adopt new standards for truck and rail emissions that will curtail the air pollution harming working-class Latino communities in California’s Inland Empire. The United States has sided with petrostates in opposing production controls on plastic at the negotiations in Ottawa for a U.N. treaty to reduce plastic pollution. (Two weeks ago, I wrote about these negotiations, noting that the number of plastics industry lobbyists attending this session was not yet known. Now it is: 196 lobbyists from the fossil fuel and chemical industries registered for this round, according to the Center for International Environmental Law—a 37 percent increase from the number at the last session.)Stat of the Week9.6%That’s the percentage of the 250 most popular fictional films released between 2013 and 2022 in which climate change exists and a character depicted on screen knows it, according to a new “Climate Reality Check” analysis from Colby University and Good Energy. Read Sammy Roth’s newsletter about why climate change in movies is so important here.What I’m ReadingBig Oil privately acknowledged efforts to downplay climate crisis, joint committee investigation findsCongressional Democrats this week released a report confirming what news outlets have previously reported: Companies like Exxon knew about climate change very early on and covered it up. They also found in subpoenaed emails that Exxon tried to discredit reporting of its duplicity, while privately acknowledging that it was true:The new revelations build on 2015 reporting from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which found that Exxon was for decades aware of the dangers of the climate crisis, yet hid that from the public.At the time, Exxon publicly rejected the journalists’ findings outright, calling them “inaccurate and deliberately misleading.” … But in internal communications, Exxon confirmed the validity of the reporting. In a December 2015 email about a potential public response to the investigative reporting, Exxon communications advisor Pamela Kevelson admitted the company did not “dispute much of what these stories report.” … “It’s true that Inside Climate News originally accused us of working against science but ultimately modified their accusation to working against policies meant to stop climate change,” Alan Jeffers, then a spokesperson for Exxon, wrote in a 2016 email to Kevelson. “I’m OK either way, since they were both true at one time or another.”Read Dharna Noor’s report in The Guardian.This article first appeared in Life in a Warming World, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: When it comes to food chemicals, Europe’s food safety agency and the FDA are oceans apart
GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: When it comes to food chemicals, Europe’s food safety agency and the FDA are oceans apart

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are two major global agencies in charge of food chemical safety. It is common to hear that food chemical regulations in the EU are more protective of human health than in the U.S. The latest example is the recent ban of four food additives in California. The state’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, noted that the chemicals were already banned in the EU, implying that the lack of action by the FDA was putting the health of Californians at risk. We examined the FDA and EFSA’s responsibilities on food chemical safety to better understand why EFSA decisions are in general more protective of health. We specifically looked at the agencies’ approach to the safety of bisphenol-A (BPA) as an example of disparate decision-making.We found that in the EU the risk assessment and risk management of food chemicals are made by different entities: EFSA focuses on science and the European Commission decides on how the risk is managed. EFSA is independent to follow the science on BPA, for example, which resulted in three risk assessments with the last one showing greater harm to human health. In contrast, the FDA conducts both risk assessment and management and it is unclear how decisions are made. Over the years, the FDA has reviewed BPA studies but continued to maintain that its uses are safe.As the FDA undergoes a reorganization, the agency has a prime opportunity to increase transparency, collaborations and update its approach to evaluating food chemical safety. Separation of risk assessment and management Both in the EU and the U.S., the safety of chemicals allowed in food is based on the chemical’s inherent hazard and the level of exposure. If the risk is such that public health must be protected, a risk management decision is made, often via regulation. These decisions could range from banning chemicals to establishing a consumption level that would not increase health risks. "EFSA focuses on science and the European Commission decides on how the risk is managed ... In contrast, the FDA conducts both risk assessment and management and it is unclear how decisions are made."In the EU, the risk assessment and the risk management decisions are made by different entities. EFSA conducts risk assessments and the European Commission then makes the risk management decision based on EFSA’s findings. This separation allows the risk assessment to be grounded in science and the risk management to consider not only the science but also social, political, technological and economic factors, as well as the precautionary principle.In the U.S., the FDA conducts both risk assessment and management.Striking differences in assessing and managing riskThe EFSA relies on scientific panels composed of independent experts with high standards to limit conflicts of interest and bias. There are ten permanent panels and a scientific committee that supports their work. The scientific opinions are often unanimous, but when they’re not, minority reports are published in the EFSA Journal and also inform the European Commission’s risk management decisions.Unlike the EFSA, FDA staff review safety assessment and information provided by manufacturers. In a safety assessment there usually are four sections: toxicology, chemistry, environmental impact and policy; but it is unclear whether there is an epidemiologist among the reviewers. One FDA staff member from each section writes a memo with a summary of information and the conclusions. These memos inform the risk management decision about the use of a substance. The scientific evaluation is not always publicly available. It is also unclear how and by whom risk management decisions are made and whether the risk assessors are also involved in risk management. Prioritization of chemicals for reassessmentThe EFSA is mandated by law to re-evaluate all food additives authorized for use before 2009. The EFSA also identifies emerging risks and collects data about things like consumption, exposure and biological risk and responds to similar requests from member states.In the U.S., there is no legal mandate for the FDA to re-evaluate the use of the approximately 10,000 chemicals allowed in food, many of them authorized decades ago with little or no safety data. It is unclear if there is a process to identify emerging risks. The first reevaluation of chemicals was in response to President Nixon’s 1969 directive to reassess hundreds of substances the FDA determined to be generally recognized as safe. Only recently, the FDA took the initiative to re-evaluate the safety of partially-hydrogenated oil, Irgafos 168 and brominated vegetable oil. Other reevaluations have been in response to petitions from public interest organizations. BPA: A tale of two agenciesThe risk assessment of BPA — which has been linked to myriad health problems including cancer, diabetes, obesity, reproductive, immune system and nervous and behavioral problems — in food-contact materials is a good example of how two science-based agencies have made very different risk management decisions.EFSA conducted risk assessments of BPA in 2006, 2015 and 2023, each time at the request of the European Commission in response to new science. The second and third re-evaluations resulted in reductions in the daily allowed exposure of BPA due to new evidence showing greater harm to human health. To complete the process, the Commission recently published its proposed regulation of BPA, which includes a ban of most common uses in polycarbonate plastic and metal can coating.The FDA assessment of BPA has been riddled with missteps and lack of transparency. The FDA approved BPA for use in food contact applications in the early 1960s. It didn’t a draft safety assessment until 2008, at the request of its commissioner in light of findings by the National Toxicology Program and ongoing evaluations in Europe. FDA then asked its Science Board to review the draft and establish a subcommittee; there was also a public meeting and a report. The subcommittee, which included some members of the board and external experts, had several concerns about FDA’s assessment. In 2014, the FDA published a memo summarizing an updated safety assessment of BPA. The five-page memo cites the toxicology evaluation conducted in previous years and exposure assessment using an unpublished model. The agency concluded that the estimated consumption amount of BPA was safe to protect children and adults. This was the FDA's last safety assessment. Unlike the EFSA, the FDA process is less structured and open. At the FDA "it is also unclear how and by whom risk management decisions are made and whether the risk assessors are also involved in risk management."The FDA has conducted its own studies on BPA at different life stages and in different species. The agency was a member of the Consortium Linking Academic and Regulatory Insights on BPA Toxicity (CLARITY-BPA). Launched in 2012 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Toxicology Program and the FDA, the aim of CLARITY was to combine a traditional regulatory toxicology study from the government and investigational studies from academics who wield more modern techniques. As part of CLARITY, the FDA also conducted a two-year guideline compliant study on BPA toxicity. In 2018, FDA concluded that “currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumers.” This statement was based on the results of only the first year of the CLARITY two-year study conducted by FDA according to its toxicity guideline and did not include analysis of data produced by the multiple academic laboratories involved in the project. Furthermore, it was not based on an assessment of risk which also necessitates exposure data. Meanwhile, the results of CLARITY, including the academic studies largely ignored by the FDA, played an important role in EFSA’s latest BPA risk assessment. Unlike EFSA, the FDA has not made public the criteria applied to select the data, to evaluate and appraise the studies included in the hazard assessment, or the weight of evidence methodology used in its current reassessment of BPA. The lack of transparency was a concern previously expressed by FDA’s Science Board subcommittee in 2008.A “deep misunderstanding” of the risk assessment and management distinctionEFSA’s independence from risk management decisions and recruitment of independent experts to conduct risk assessments gives the agency the freedom to follow the science. By comparison, the FDA has stagnated.One explanation for such a difference would be FDA’s strong adherence to its historical decisions, rather than considering more recent science. This bias toward their own work is not conducive to change. Another explanation would be FDA scientists conflating risk assessment and risk management. In 2013, the FDA conducted a review of its chemical safety program and an external consultant noted that there appeared to be a “deep misunderstanding of the risk assessment – risk management distinction” among the staff. This observation is apparent in a commentary in Nature in 2010, where FDA toxicologists said that dismissing “out of hand” risk management factors such as economics, benefits of existing technologies, cost of replacing banned technologies and the toxic risk of any replacement “is, to say the least, insular, and surely imprudent in a regulatory setting.” The consultant added that FDA staff suggested that the agency “should not be too quick to adopt new scientific approaches.” Such an approach has likely deterred its scientists from acting on new evidence.FDA is undergoing a reorganization, including the creation of a new Human Food Program. Almost a year ago, the agency announced it was “embarking on a more modernized, systematic reassessment of chemicals with a focus on post-market review.” For this to be successful, the FDA should adopt updated processes and methods, include outside experts when it encounters challenging scientific or technical issues, increase collaboration with other agencies, and engage with stakeholders including consumers, academic institutions, public interest organizations and industry. But above all, the FDA must restore the public’s trust in the agency with a strong commitment to transparency in decision-making and clear separation between risk assessment and risk management.For more information check these summary tables.

Cinema Verde Presents: 928 The Threat Continues...
Cinema Verde Presents: 928 The Threat Continues...

Now Playing | Since the 1950s deadly nuclear fallout has threatened millions of Americans from nuclear fallout carried east in the atmosphere across the United States, from the Nevada Test Site. “928 The Threat Continues...” tells the story of massive contamination from concentrated nuclear fallout that rained down during heavy storms, on communities and major cities for 40 years. Hundreds of thousands of cancer cases and deaths were the result. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Energy knew the truth, but covered it up. Multiple generations may still face the long-term affects. Through current interviews with scientific experts and surviving victims across the country, plus footage from historic interviews with victims, whistle-blower scientists and journalists, we tell the devastating story of those affected by the deadly radioactive fallout. In Act 3, obscure government videos from US government websites reveal that the threat of cancer death to Americans from Nevada Test Site contamination continues even today! NTS has been renamed, the Nevada National Security Site or NNSS. Presidential administrations from Harry Truman to the present day have kept the highly contaminated former Nevada Test Site operating. Donald Trump while in office ordered the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to start testing newly designed battlefield nuclear weapons at the NNSS despite the existence of The Non-Proliferation Treaty – 1970. Not withstanding the treaty, the extremely reckless aboveground testing area at the NNSS called Big Explosives Experimental Facility or B.E.E.F. tests non-nuclear bombs that send tons of highly contaminated nuclear dirt 10,000 feet into the atmosphere where the winds carry it east. It needs to be stopped now! The film asks viewers to inform their congressman and vote.

GoGreenNation News: Paused Ohio chemical recycling plant puts spotlight on Appalachia as “prime target” for the controversial practice
GoGreenNation News: Paused Ohio chemical recycling plant puts spotlight on Appalachia as “prime target” for the controversial practice

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — On a bright, cold day in February, Akim Lattermore stood in front of her house gesturing toward the site of a proposed facility that would convert old tires, electronic waste and plastic into fuel.The site, owned by SOBE Thermal Energy Systems, is currently home to crumbling old buildings and a natural-gas-powered steam heat generating unit. It’s less than half a mile from Lattermore’s home, visible from her front yard, which bears a sign with a picture of a black plume of smoke and the message “Stop SOBE. We have enough toxic air pollution.”“I’m a two-time cancer survivor,” Lattermore told Environmental Health News (EHN). “I believe that our environment has a lot to do with it.”Youngstown has a long industrial history and is still home to numerous sources of industrial pollution, including a steel plant and other metal fabricators, a concrete plant and a hazardous waste processing facility. Youngstown’s polluting industries released 80,600 pounds of toxic chemicals into air and water in 2022, including carcinogenic heavy metals like lead, nickel and chromium compounds, and possible carcinogens like ethylbenzene, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxics Release Inventory. Residents like Lattermore fear that SOBE’s proposed chemical recycling plant — currently on hold after the city passed a one-year moratorium — will only add to this toxic burden. “I’m a two-time cancer survivor. I believe that our environment has a lot to do with it.” - Akim Lattermore, Youngstown, Ohio, residentThere are proposals in the works for similar chemical recycling plants across the country. According to a 2023 report by the nonprofit organization Beyond Plastics, 11 such facilities had already been constructed in the U.S. as of September 2023, with one closing this year. Proposals for projects similar to SOBE’s throughout the Ohio River Valley have also met with community resistance — but more are likely on the way. “Appalachia is definitely a prime target for chemical recycling,” Jess Conard, Appalachia director of the nonprofit Beyond Plastics, told EHN. “There are often big tax subsidies available for these kinds of industries in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and it’s part of the culture of this region that people feel like they have to make health sacrifices to put food on the table, as we’ve seen with extractive industries like coal mining and fracking.”At least two other chemical recycling plants in Ohio have received state or local subsidies, according to a 2023 Beyond Plastics’s report. Alterra, located in Akron, Ohio, received a $1.6 million state loan and support from the city of Akron in the form of various discounts, including a $1 per year property lease in return for “a percentage of the project’s future cash flow,” while Purecycle in Ironton, Ohio, received $250 million in revenue bonds from the Southern Ohio Port Authority. Chemical recycling facilities may also receive federal subsidies through numerous programs, including the Department of Energy’s $25 million Strategy for Plastic Innovation, grants and loans from the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture, and the federal Inflation Reduction Act. While these projects plow ahead promising an answer to the plastics crisis, communities are concerned about the impacts. “Right now there’s no proof that this is safe,” Tom Hetrick, president of Youngstown City Council, which passed the year-long moratorium, told EHN. Chemical recycling controversy Chemical recycling is an umbrella term for processes that use heat, chemicals or both to break down plastic waste into component parts for reuse as plastic feedstocks or as fuel. These processes are different from conventional or mechanical plastic recycling, which breaks down plastic waste physically but not at a molecular level. Only 5 to 6% of plastic waste gets recycled in the U.S., and proponents of chemical recycling say it could help create a truly circular economy. “We’re not going to create circularity for plastics with one single solution,” Chris Layton, director of sustainability for specialty plastics at Eastman Chemical Company, told EHN. “We’re going to have to eliminate some plastics we really don't need, figure out ways to reduce and reuse and maximize what we can do for mechanical and advanced recycling.” However, opponents say chemical recycling facilities worsen climate change and emit toxic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and other persistent pollutants; volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. Lattermore worries about the cumulative effects. “So many other members of my family who have lived in this house have also had cancer. My grandma, my dad, my sister,” Lattermore said. “I have four grandkids, two daughters. How are they going to survive living so close to that type of waste?” The American Chemistry Council is advocating for relaxed environmental regulations for these types of facilities, encouraging states to reclassify them from solid waste facilities to manufacturing facilities, which requires less rigorous permitting applications, reduces regulatory oversight of air emissions and toxic waste and allows them to seek additional taxpayer subsidies. Ohio is one of 24 states that have already done this, along with Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi — a grouping that encompasses most of the Ohio River Valley and much of Appalachia. “We’re not going to create circularity for plastics with one single solution.” Chris Layton, Eastman Chemical CompanyMeanwhile, environmental advocates are fighting to stop these plants from being constructed. “Even if all of the advanced recycling plants in the U.S. were functioning at full capacity with no issues, they would only be managing 1.3% of global plastic waste we currently have,” Conard said. “The plastic industry is pushing this technology as a solution so they can continue manufacturing new plastic.”Environmental justice concerns Lattermore was among a group of local residents who fought to stop SOBE’s plant in Youngstown. They distributed fliers, called policymakers and knocked on doors to gather hundreds of petition signatures. Eventually, they garnered support from Youngstown City Council. “I think one of my primary concerns is the location,” Hetrick said. “It's in a busy neighborhood. There are residential neighbors, two popular bars right there, a restaurant caddy corner, a church on the other side, a five or six story jail a half block in the other direction, and a bunch of Youngstown State University student housing right there.” “It’s also an environmental justice area, and in terms of environmental risks and hazards it just seems like a terrible place to put this kind of operation,” he explained. In September, a representative from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency noting that the project “raises potential environmental justice concerns” because Youngstown ranks in the 80th percentile in the state for pollution from include ozone, diesel particulate matter, air toxics cancer risk, traffic proximity, lead paint, Superfund site Proximity, Risk Management Program (RMP) facility proximity, hazardous waste proximity, underground storage tanks and wastewater discharge. “The population living in the area around the facility is significantly comprised of people of color, linguistically isolated households (Spanish language), those with low income, those with less than a high school education and a high unemployment rate,” the letter noted, before advising the Ohio EPA to “conduct a more thorough environmental justice analysis of appropriate scope to inform the permitting decision.” In December, Youngstown City Council unanimously voted to adopt a one-year moratorium on pyrolysis, gasification or combustion of tires, plastics and electronic waste. Council said they intended to spend the year further researching these types of facilities. "In terms of environmental risks and hazards it just seems like a terrible place to put this kind of operation.” - Tom Hetrick, president of Youngstown City CouncilWhen Hetrick researched other facilities, he found stories about dangerous accidents and fires at a chemical recycling plant in Ashley, Indiana, which amplified his concerns. In a statement about the moratorium on its website, SOBE said the company “respects this cautious approach and is committed to working closely with city officials and community members.” SOBE did not respond to a request for an interview. In February, the Ohio EPA issued an air permit for SOBE’s proposed plant, prompting outcry from the community. “I am deeply disappointed in the Ohio EPA and their decision to grant a permit to SOBE,” Hetrick said in a statement after the announcement. “It’s clear to me that the Ohio EPA spent months copying, categorizing and calculating the hundreds of comments from concerned Youngstown residents, but not actually listening to us or responding in any meaningful way.”

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