Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Long overdue action on ‘forever’ chemicals
They’re called “forever chemicals,” and they’re used in everyday products like cookware and furniture. They are increasingly shown to have adverse impacts on human health. And it’s taken until now for the federal government to do much of anything about it. Even people who are in tune with environmental causes may never have heard of PFAS until recently. Short for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, PFAS made news in Connecticut in 2019 after a spill into the Farmington River of firefighting products from Bradley Airport. Since then, the state has started the process of examining the harms caused by the chemicals, and the federal government is now following suit. It’s a welcome step, but an indication of how long a potentially harmful substance can be in wide circulation before anything is done about it. PFAS chemicals have been around for decades. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly known of the risks posed by PFAS since at least 1998, but has until now failed to act. This latest step shouldn’t make us feel better about the safety of products we use every day. Regardless, action is better than inaction. The EPA announced Monday it would seek to adopt tougher regulations and collect data from manufacturers on PFAS, which follows state action in the most recent legislative session banning use of the chemicals in most firefighting foams and food packaging. The proposed federal action would have manufacturers report how many PFAS chemicals their products contain, provide data about emissions and potentially pay for environmental cleanup. In addition to the Farmington River spill, elevated levels of the chemicals were found this summer in at least 10 wells in Killingworth, which helped spur the state to take legislative action. It’s likely that many more undiscovered hot spots could be found around the state and the country. PFAS take a long time to break down in the environment, and have a tendency to accumulate in the bodies of humans and animals. They stick around for a long time, earning the “forever” moniker. Exposure to them has been linked to cancer, impaired immune systems, decreased fertility and low birth weights. The roadmap unveiled by the EPA is aimed at eventually paying for cleanups and limiting future use of the chemicals. State and federal action will also place a burden on businesses that use the products, many of which will be tasked with finding out how much they use and coming up with ways to replace them without hurting their bottom lines. This is the kind of thing some politicians are known to rail against when they object to regulation. Yes, the government is going to place a burden on small businesses in the form of new regulations, and yes, it could have heavy costs. Maybe some businesses will even close as a result. But it’s being undertaken with an aim at protecting human health and righting a wrong that was decades in the making. Regulation isn’t undertaken for spite, but to try to make the products we use every day less likely to cause us harm. It’s a long road toward ridding the world of PFAS chemicals. But it’s a necessary one.
Regulation isn’t undertaken for spite, but to try to make the products we use every day less likely to cause us harm.