Read the full article by Liz Hitchcock (Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families)
“You may have already heard that the Trump administration is taking actions behind the scenes to weaken an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to protect us from PFAS chemicals. You may be outraged (but probably not surprised) to learn that these actions have been driven by a former chemical industry lobbyist—who’s now nominated to run our top consumer protection agency.
That’s right, this is the kind of plot thickening that movies are made of! But unlike a good movie, this story gets a little wonky and detailed right off the mark, so it’s important for us to break it all down so we can understand what we need to do to get our happily ever after.
What’s going on? And what’s a SNUR?
The EPA proposal that the Trump administration is trying to weaken is called a ‘SNUR,’ which seems like the sound of a muppet snoring but stands for Significant New Use Rule. A SNUR is a rule that EPA issues in order to get advance notice about the new use of a chemical that could harm human health or the environment. (‘New use’ can also mean the resurrection of an old one.) Under the SNUR, EPA either approves or disallows the specific use.
This particular ‘SNUR’ is for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have contaminated the tap water of millions of Americans and are present in everyday products like nonstick pans and waterproof jackets. This is problematic because exposure to these toxic chemicals is linked to cancer, immune diseases, and other serious illnesses. Chemical companies unleashed this class of chemicals with little or no safety testing. Today we find ourselves dealing with this toxic mess as a result.
What would EPA’s proposed SNUR do?
In 2006, EPA and eight major companies in the PFAS chemical industry entered into a voluntary agreement to phase out U.S. production of PFOA and PFOS, two of the oldest PFAS chemicals, by 2015. In 2015, EPA proposed a rule (the SNUR) that amounted to a de facto ban on certain PFAS chemicals (including but not limited to PFOA and PFOS) for which there were no ongoing uses. It also included an important de facto ban on resuming abandoned uses of these types of PFAS chemicals that had previously been allowed. In addition, the rule proposed to remove exemptions in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that allowed anyone to import these chemicals as part of a consumer product.
That 2015 SNUR was never finalized. However, when Congress passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one of the provisions we won required EPA to take final action on it by June 20, 2020. But then, a plot twist.
The proposed PFAS SNUR is now a much weaker version of the original proposal
Unfortunately, the version of the proposed SNUR that EPA released for public comment two months ago significantly watered down the earlier proposal. It limited which new PFAS-containing products would require SNUR notification and review before they can be imported to the US. This opened up a loophole through which imports containing hazardous PFAS could be imported and sold in the U.S., exposing families and continuing the cycle of harm…”