Read the full article by Tom Perkins (The Guardian)
“US industry disposed of at least 60m pounds of PFAS ‘forever chemical’ waste over the last five years, and did so with processes that probably pollute the environment around disposal sites, a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data finds.
The 60m pounds estimate is likely to be a ‘dramatic’ undercount because PFAS waste is unregulated in the US and companies are not required to record its disposal, the paper’s author, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), wrote.
Still, the findings ‘depict a vast, unregulated, spreading web of PFAS waste disposal in the United States’, Peer said.
‘These data show that we are steadily poisoning ourselves, our waters, and our food chain with extremely persistent toxic chemicals,’ said Tim Whitehouse, Peer’s executive director and a former EPA attorney.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 15,000 compounds most frequently used to make products water-, stain- and grease-resistant. They have been linked to cancer, birth defects, decreased immunity, high cholesterol, kidney disease and a range of other serious health problems. They are dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because most do not degrade in the environment.
Peer identified over 10,300 PFAS waste shipments between June 2018 and June 2023. The most common disposal methods were incineration, landfilling, discharge into wastewater treatment systems, and deep well injection.
Facilities disposing of the largest amounts of PFAS waste included a US Ecology plant in Nevada, a deep-well injection site near Houston, and an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, just upwind from East Palestine, the site of a toxic Norfolk Southern train derailment in February.
But there are problems with each method. Deep well injection involves sending the chemicals into the Earth’s crust, and that process, as well as landfilling, have been found to leak PFAS into nearby drinking water supplies. Incineration may only partially destroy PFAS, and can widely disperses them through the atmosphere. When the chemicals land, they can contaminate water, soil and crops.
‘There is no known way to safely dispose of PFAS and that’s the problem,’ Whitehouse said.
The PFAS’s source varies because the chemicals are so widely used, but firefighting foam employed by the military, airports and other industrial users accounts for about 40m pounds of the recorded waste. Some states have begun banning the product, and the military is largely phasing out its use.
Peer and other environmental groups have petitioned the EPA to designate PFAS as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the agency since October 2021 has been reviewing four of the most common PFAS compounds for designation.
In addition to domestic waste, the US recently approved the importation of 4.4m pounds of PFAS waste annually from the Netherlands for reclamation and disposal. The move comes after the EU found it cannot safely manage PFAS waste and is imposing strict regulations on recycling and disposal, so sending waste to the US has become an attractive solution.
‘If the EPA does not act imminently, the US is at risk of becoming a dumping ground for this toxic waste from the rest of the world due to EPA’s inaction,’ Whitehouse said.”