One week after his inauguration, President Biden signed an executive order “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” Over at EPA, with a new administrator waiting in the wings, the agency appeared to validate the new approach, when it swiftly rescinded an earlier PFAS toxicity assessment released by the outgoing administration. It cited “scientific integrity” as its rationale.
According to the agency, EPA career scientists had reviewed a recently released toxicity assessment for a PFAS compound known as perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS). The scientists determined that the publicly released findings “were compromised by political interference.“ In a news release, the agency stated that the compromised data “constitutes a violation of the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy,” and it has since removed the assessment from its website.
The PFBS assessment was a component of EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, touted as “the most comprehensive cross-agency plan ever to address an emerging chemical of concern.” In addition to the now recalled toxicity assessment, EPA had issued a number of related actions, including a directive to advance PFOA/PFOS drinking water regulations, a proposal to collect new PFAS data under UCMR 5, next steps for PFAS in wastewater and improved coordination among federal agencies.
So far, there have been no additional announcements from EPA regarding these remaining action items, released one day before President Biden took office.
PFAS, PFOA, perfluorinated compounds, will be a top priority for this administration
Biden Nominates Regan to Lead EPA
Michael Regan, currently serving as North Carolina’s Secretary of Environmental Quality, received bipartisan support at a February 3 confirmation hearing in front of the Environment and Public Works Committee. His appointment is not final until confirmed by the full Senate, but experts believe that is forthcoming.
“One area that I hope to prioritize is [PFAS],” said Senate majority leader Kirsten Gillibrand at Regan’s hearing. “In my view, the previous administration did not act with the sense of urgency that we need on this issue,” she added.
Regan, who has a degree in environmental science from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University and a 10-year stint at EPA, has come out in favor of setting limits on PFAS concentrations in drinking water.
“PFAS, PFOA, perfluorinated compounds, will be a top priority for this administration,” said Regan. “We will pursue discharge limits. We will pursue water quality values…I think we need to take a very strong look at the emissions that are coming from the combustion and incineration of products that yield PFAS into our atmosphere.”
If confirmed, Regan will take the reins at an historic time for the EPA. PFAS is a global concern and has been named as a top environmental priority, second only to climate change. Some researchers have even tried to measure potential connections between PFAS and COVID-19 symptoms and vaccines. As part of his strategy, Regan plans to appoint new justice officials responsible for air, water and land pollution. He also plans to appoint a chemical safety official under each of those umbrellas.
CDM Smith will continue monitoring Regan’s appointment process and provide further analysis on the continuation of the agency’s PFAS Action Plan.
EPA Reissues Regulatory Determinations
On February 22, EPA reissued its commitment to regulate two PFAS in drinking water. Leaving behind six other compounds (1,1-dichloroethane, acetochlor, methyl bromide, metolachlor, nitrobenzene and RDX) on the Fourth Contaminant Candidate List, the agency made final regulatory determinations to implement the national primary drinking water regulation development process for PFOA and PFOS.
EPA has also reissued the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule to collect new data on 29 additional PFAS in drinking water. The agency's official news release stated that the agency has reissued both these actions so that it can use "a strong foundation of science while working to harmonize multiple authorities to address the impacts of PFAS on public health and the environment."