New EPA definition of PFAS omits pharmaceutical and pesticide chemicals

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a new “working definition” of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. The updated definition is narrower, leaving out many chemicals in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and even some refrigerants.

Scientists worry that the agency’s redefinition of PFAS will make these chemicals less toxic, and critics have noted that the update gives preference to chemical makers and the U.S. Department of Defense over public and environmental health. .

The EPA previously used the narrow definition of PFAS in December 2021. It highlighted the definition and refused to take action on PFAS contamination found in North Carolina, as reported by The Guardian. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, North Carolina has third highest exposure to PFAS of any state.

PFAS are known as “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down. Yet they are found in thousands of products that people use or come into contact with on a daily basis, including furniture, clothing and food packaging.

As noted by the CDC“Many PFAS, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are of concern because they: do not break down in the environment, can move through soils and contaminate sources of potable water, [and] accumulate (bioaccumulate) in fish and wildlife.

Although further studies are needed, there are research linking exposure to PFAS to negative consequences for human health, including kidney and testicular cancers, weakening of the immune system, changes in liver enzymes that lead to injury, and hypercholesterolemia, among others.

Scientists debate how to properly define PFAS, but the most widely used definition is that of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which defines PFAS as any chemical compound containing a fluorinated carbon atom. This includes tens of thousands of chemicals.

The EPA now defines PFAS as “two or more adjacent carbon atoms, where one carbon is fully fluorinated and the other is at least partially fluorinated”, although this is considered a working definition for now. This definition would include approximately 6,500 chemicals, leaving out thousands more.

Many of the chemicals excluded by the narrower definition include chemicals found in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, some refrigerants and some PFAS gases, The Guardian reported. This remains even though the compounds are known to later become highly toxic to humans and the environment.

“How can you tell something isn’t PFAS when it becomes PFAS after it’s been metabolized by the body or undergone changes in the environment – that just doesn’t sit well with me,” Linda Birnbaum said. , former EPA scientist and head of National Toxicology. Program.

Birnbaum also noted that the EPA’s new definition is more similar to industry’s PFAS definition than the scientific community’s.