PFAS Manufactures’ Indifference to Public Health and the Environment Shows Why We need the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act’s Passage
Five decades ago, on October 17, 1972, Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, now known as the Clean Water Act. It was the first major statute in the United States to address the growing problem of water pollution. The impetus for the CWA’s enactment was public outcry over pollution of waterways by industry. The flashpoint for this outcry stems from an incident in 1969 in Ohio where the Cuyahoga River was so contaminated with industrial pollution that it caught fire.
Bad Faith Arguments over the Value of the Clean water Act
Industrial leaders frequently argue that the $1 trillion cost over time of the 1972 US Clean Water Act outweigh its benefits. Industry consultants argue that we must relax water safeguards to protect economic growth. Every year armies of industry attorneys are paid small fortunes to find ways to eliminate, restrict, and/or bypass these environmental regulations through litigation. Industry almost always concludes that self-regulation is the best method to address pollution. However, most of the arguments to walk back water safety regulation rely on faulty or incomplete data regarding water quality.
PFAS Manufacturers Show the Dangers of Industry Self-Regulation and Importance of the CWA
The fact of the matter is that the Clean Water Act is vital to the nation. Water regulation should be strengthened, not restricted. The idea of industry self-regulation being protective of the environment is incompatible with the ongoing revelation of widespread PFAS contamination in US water systems.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), known as forever chemicals, are widely used and break down very slowly over time. PFOA and PFOS (the two most widely used PFAS) are soluble and readily transportable via air and water. PFOA and PFOS will leach from the surface into groundwater where PFOA and PFOS are chemically stable and resist degradation. Thus, once PFAS is released into a water system, it will typically remain there until actively remediated.
Health Effects of PFAS
Numerous scientific studies show exposure to certain PFAS in the environment are likely linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals. These harmful effects include: Hepatic Effects (increased cholesterol, increased liver weight; hypertrophy); Cardiovascular Effects (pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia); Endocrine Effects (thyroid disease); Immune Effects (decreased vaccine response); Respiratory Effects (asthma, COPD, bronchitis); Reproductive Effects (decreased fertility); Skeletal Effects (osteoarthritis); Developmental Effects (decreased birth weight); and the most concerning Carcinogenic Effects (kidney, liver, testicular, prostate, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
Industrial manufacturers of PFAS knew the dangers of their product, yet continued to market them as safe. By the early 1980s, PFAS manufacturers knew or should have known that: (a) PFOA and PFOS are toxic; and (b) when sprayed in the open environment per the instructions given by the manufacturer, PFOA and PFOS readily migrate through the subsurface, mix easily with groundwater, resist natural degradation, render drinking water unsafe and/or non-potable, and can be removed from public drinking water supplies only at substantial expense. Despite this knowledge, these manufacturers flooded the market with PFOA and PFOS for decades.
Industry Profits – Public Pays
Federal, state, and local governments are just now scratching the surface in determining the scope of the PFAS problem. The United States and other countries will be dealing with the fallout from the chemical industry’s continued preference of protecting profits over human health. Reducing PFAS levels from waterways and aquifers will take a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money. If the CWA and other environmental regulations were stronger, companies like 3M would have been forced to disclose the dangers of PFOA/PFOS. PFOS/PFOA chemicals would be phased out decades earlier and citizens would not be left footing a large portion of the remediation costs.