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A boy pours tap water into a drinking glass.

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Conservationists Push EPA to Add 1,000+ Pollutants to 'Outdated' List of Toxic Chemicals

"It's stupefying that the last time the EPA updated its toxic pollutant list, the 8-track was considered an advanced technology and Gerald Ford was president," said one group.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's official documentation, no toxic pollutants have emerged in the United States in nearly five decades—and two advocacy groups on Monday demanded that the agency add more than 1,000 chemicals to its list to bring the inventory up to date.

Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a formal legal petition with a list of industrial and commercial pollutants—many of which have been outlawed in other countries—that they want the EPA to formally acknowledge as toxic.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—also known as forever chemicals because they break down very slowly and have been found in human breastmilk, the summit of Mount Everest, and 97% of U.S. blood samples in one study—are among the substances that have been left off the EPA's inventory so far, even as they have gained wide recognition as a public health threat in recent years.

The EPA currently recognizes PFAS as "nonconventional," but not as toxic, "resulting in no regulation under water quality-based permitting," according to the groups.

Hannah Connor, environmental health deputy director at CBD, accused the EPA of "acting like we're frozen in the '70s."

"It's stupefying that the last time the EPA updated its toxic pollutant list, the 8-track was considered an advanced technology and Gerald Ford was president," said Connor. "Our world has changed dramatically over the past 50 years... The agency has turned its back on the deluge of new, dangerously toxic pollutants that have poisoned our waterways and permeated our lives."

The groups noted that a number of pollutants on their list of more than 1,000 omissions have been banned in other countries.

More than 35 governments including the European Union have outlawed the herbicide atrazine, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer and reproductive issues and has been found to "chemically castrate male frogs" at concentrations currently allowed in U.S. drinking water.

Despite the risks it carries, atrazine is the second-most used weed killer in the country.

"Where has the EPA been for the last half-century?" asked Nina Bell, executive director of NWEA.

In a statement, Bell called on the agency to "grant our petition and launch itself firmly into the science of the 21st century."

"For nearly 50 years, EPA has been ignoring the growing mountain of science about the more than 1,000 unregulated toxic chemicals contaminating our rivers and drinking water, at a tremendous cost to human health and the environment," said Bell. "The American people count on EPA to keep our drinking water clean, remedy environmental injustice, and protect fish and marine mammals from toxic pollution, but the agency has betrayed that public trust."

The EPA's toxic pollutant list was created in 1976 as the result of litigation. It was incorporated into the Clean Water Act the following year, and Congress ordered the agency to update the list over time as new data about toxins became available.

"Congress has repeatedly exhorted EPA and the states to move swiftly to improve and carry out regulatory programs to keep toxic pollutants out of the nation's waters," wrote the two groups to the agency. "Instead, EPA's program has become obsolete, languishing for decades and in many instances without any improvements."

Adding toxins to the list "is an essential first step to enable EPA to meet its statutory duties to update and adopt new requirements to control the discharge of these pollutants," they added.

Other toxins that have not been added to the list include nonylphenols, which are endocrine disruptors and have been banned by the E.U. while being "virtually unregulated" in the U.S., and manganese, which is found in coal mine runoff and has been detected in high concentrations in low-income communities, particularly in Appalachia. Manganese is linked to impacts on memory, motor skills, and intellectual development.

The groups asked the EPA to establish a system for accepting proposed changes to the list every three year and to identify pollutants that are not susceptible to treatment and can pass into drinking water, including many named by CBD and NWEA in their petition.

They wrote that the petition gives the EPA an opportunity to update its toxic pollutant list and priority pollutant list, "to develop rules to ensure that the lists do not become outdated again in the future, and to bring the pretreatment program into the 21st century."

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