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EPA Identifies More Than 120,000 Potential PFAS Sites in U.S.

Limited Reporting and Growing Corporate Secrecy Blur Clearer Picture
WASHINGTON -

The PFAS footprint across the U.S. may be several times larger than previously reported, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that some 120,000 industrial facilities “may be handling” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a number that carries troubling implications for controlling this toxic chemical’s spread.
 
The EPA figures indicate that the listed sites involving PFAS manufacture, import, handling, or storage –

  • Are in areas with more than 25% minority residents, with nearly 40% located within a three-mile radius of those communities;  
  • Are found in all states and territories but that three states, Colorado, California, and Oklahoma (in that order), house more than one third of all the facilities listed; and  
  • Include more than 6,000 facilities with a history of environmental violations.   

“These figures show a scale of potential PFAS contamination in this country that is gargantuan,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, who obtained the figures under the Freedom of Information Act.  “Unfortunately, the data indicate that EPA has a very shaky grasp on who is using which chemicals and in what volumes.”  
 
For example, the agency categorizes more than half of these facilities (around 57%) as active with one-quarter (around 27%) categorized inactive, while the status of the balance (around 16% or more than 20,000 sites) is listed as “unknown.”  
 
Much of this data gap springs from the fact that mandatory reporting is limited to industries producing or importing more than 10,000 pounds at any site in any year.  Industries using PFAS, in any quantity, are not required to report.  Further, many industries may not know if they are handling PFAS or using ingredients, products, or machinery that contain PFAS.  
 
Compounding the fragmentary nature of the data is the rapid increase in the number of Confidential Information Business (CBI) claims from companies. CBI is broadly defined as proprietary information that a company claims could cause substantial business injury to the owner if released.  EPA allows PFAS manufacturers and importers to claim as CBI the company name, the parent company, the site address, and even the state and zip code. Nor does EPA report any data on PFAS where the chemical name itself is claimed as CBI. 
 
“With PFAS, EPA is like the proverbial blind man and the elephant; it has little idea which of these facilities are actually using PFAS, what type or how much,” added Whitehouse, noting that there are more than 9,000 types of PFAS.  “One big concern is that emergency responders, health departments, and state regulators do not know what toxic chemicals are being produced and used in their communities.  As a result, they cannot develop appropriate public health safeguards.”
 
PEER is advocating regulation of PFAS as a class of chemicals, removing them from our drinking water an food supply, and removing them from consumer products. In addition, PEER has been asking EPA to treat PFAS as a hazardous waste from manufacture to disposal, employing a so-called cradle to grave approach.

###

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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