EPA data shows US toxic PFAS waste problem is worsening, watchdog group says

By Shannon Kelleher

The average amount of waste containing toxic PFAS chemicals that is shipped around the US each month has almost quadrupled since 2018, according to an analysis of government data by a watchdog group.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data points to about 10,344 shipments totaling almost 27 million kilograms of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) waste in the last five years, since the agency first began collecting the data.

The findings, released Nov. 9, reflect “a small percentage, we believe, of the amount of PFAS waste that is being generated, transported, stored, and disposed of in the US,” said Tim Whitehouse, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which authored the report. “There’s no reporting requirement.”

The EPA data supports the need for the agency to regulate PFAS under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C, which authorizes the agency to set regulatory standards for the management of hazardous waste from “cradle to grave,” says the report. PEER and the Environmental Law Clinic at Berkeley, on behalf of the Green Science Policy Institute and community groups around the country, petitioned the EPA in 2019 and 2020 to regulate PFAS as hazardous waste.

The EPA did not respond to request for comment.

Exposure to PFAS “forever chemicals,” which do not break down naturally, has been linked to health problems including thyroid, kidney, and testicular cancer, as well as ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, and hypertension during pregnancy. About 97% of Americans have PFAS in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People are exposed to the chemicals in water or food, the air they breathe, or from using products made with PFAS.