The Biden-Harris Administration announced accelerated efforts to protect American workers from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can cause severe health problems and persist in the environment once released, posing a severe threat across rural, suburban, and urban areas.
FPAS is a term to describe over 5,000 synthetic chemicals that are used in manufacturing processes worldwide. PFAS is used to repel water and oil, protect against high temperatures and eliminate friction. They are composed of a long chain of molecules that are slow to degrade in the environment. PFAS have been used since the 1940s.
Workers may suffer occupational exposure to PFAS. They are used in a non-stick coating on cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, firefighting foams, and cosmetics. Proof issues involving such claims may be the identification of the substance, date of exposure, date of manifestation, apportionment of liability, dose-response leading to causation, and synergistic factors.
Medical Issues Related to PFAS
The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] has reported that exposure to PFAS can cause severe medical issues, including:
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Reduced chances of pregnancy
- Increased cholesterol levels
The announced efforts will help prevent PFAS from being released into the air, drinking systems, and food supply to safeguard public health and protect the environment. The actions will expand cleanup efforts to remediate the impacts of these harmful pollutants.
EPA Administrator Regan launched EPA’s PFAS Roadmap, a comprehensive strategy that outlines concrete actions over the next three years, including steps to control PFAS at its sources, hold polluters accountable, ensure science-based decision making, and address the impacts on disadvantaged communities.
EPA is launching a robust, new PFAS Roadmap that will guide the Agency’s current and planned activities in 2021-2024 to research, restrict, and remediate harmful PFAS. The Roadmap includes regulatory and administrative actions and enforcement approaches that EPA intends to take, using existing authorities, to comprehensively address PFAS throughout the environment. Measures include a new national testing strategy to accelerate research and regulatory development, a proposal to designate certain PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and actions to broaden and accelerate the cleanup of PFAS. The roadmap is the product of the EPA PFAS Council, which Administrator Regan established shortly after being confirmed.
The EPA has already taken this year to confront PFAS, including updating a PFBS toxicity assessment that had been marked by error and improper, non-scientific influence and issuing a new review backed by career scientists. The EPA has also begun to develop a national primary drinking water regulation, improve understanding of 29 PFAS chemicals in the nation’s water systems, and stop polluters from discharging PFAS into America’s waterways and wastewater systems.
Biden’s Proposed Legislation
The Biden Infrastructure Deal includes $10 billion in grants to address emerging contaminants, including PFAS, through the State Revolving Funds and small and disadvantaged community programs. The President’s proposed Build Back Better Agenda also includes investments for EPA to conduct monitoring across the country for 29 PFAS compounds in drinking water through the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule program.
Department of Defense Action
The Department of Defense (DOD) is moving swiftly to address PFAS at DOD sites throughout the country. The Department is currently conducting PFAS cleanup assessments at the nearly 700 DOD installations and National Guard locations where PFAS was used or may have been released and expects to have completed all initial evaluations by the end of 2023.
Last month, EPA and DOD research efforts also expanded testing capabilities to detect more types of PFAS in various environmental media (soil, groundwater, etc.). They will dramatically expand DOD’s and the nation’s ability to detect and ultimately address PFAS. Earlier this year, DOD also initiated quarterly public outreach by senior officials with stakeholders to discuss the Department’s PFAS-related work to provide transparency and accountability. DOD manages the most extensive research and development program in the nation devoted to PFAS detection, treatment, and destruction—with over $150 million in investments and another $70 million committed to a PFAS-free replacement firefighting foam. This program works closely with the best research academic institutions in the nation to develop the science to help address PFAS.
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to expand its testing of the food supply to significantly advance its work to estimate dietary exposure to PFAS from food. Over the next three years, FDA will proactively engage with and continue to support states when suspected areas of PFAS contamination may impact food and expand its PFAS analysis method development. In the coming months, this will include announcing additional testing results from the general food supply and targeted testing of seafood. FDA will also report on the verification process for the 3-year phase out of sales of certain PFAS from food contact uses, following agreements reached with certain manufacturers in 2020.
FDA earlier this year announced the results from its first round of expanded representative testing of the food supply to detect potential PFAS contamination, including in processed foods. The Agency has analyzed 440 Total Diet Study (TDS) samples for PFAS, in four waves of analysis, and is currently analyzing additional collections as well as conducting a targeted survey of the most commonly consumed seafood in the United States. FDA also continues to support state and local governments in responding to known and possible contamination events that may impact human food or animal food. Over the past few years, FDA has provided technical assistance to approximately seven states and has analyzed over 400 samples as a part of these engagements. The FDA has also broadened its outreach to industry to ensure that companies are reminded of packaging requirements that are intended to reduce human exposure to PFAS and is monitoring the presence of and potential exposure to PFAS in cosmetics.
Department of Agriculture
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supporting research on PFAS in the food system and taking action to prevent and address contamination. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service researchers are investigating the causes and implications of PFAS in the food system. USDA will also continue to support extramural research on environmental contaminants including PFAS, with a focus on PFAS in the environment and food supply, as well as animal and human health. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has developed and is deploying analytical methods for testing for PFAS in meat and poultry products.
Department of Homeland Security-Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is driving forward a set of initiatives to investigate and remediate PFAS and protect emergency responders. DHS conducted the first-ever inventory of PFAS use and prior releases from its facilities, including uses in firefighting foams and other PFAS-containing materials, and possible water source contamination. To address the known or suspected presence of PFAS at DHS facilities, a recent Policy Directive establishes procedures for alerting the Office of the Chief Readiness Support Officer, conducting follow-up investigations, and taking appropriate response actions. Going forward, a new DHS-wide Emerging Contaminants Working Group will coordinate additional steps to remediate PFAS and other contaminants of emerging concern.
Also within DHS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is addressing PFAS usage in firefighting foams, personal protective equipment, and other emergency response settings. Through the National Fire Academy, FEMA is working to better understand and mitigate PFAS exposure from fire training exercises and equipment use. FEMA also awarded a $1.5 million grant to the University of Arizona to study the extent of firefighter exposure to PFAS and resulting health impacts.
Department of Health and Human Services
The Department of Health and Human Services continues to review the rapidly evolving science on human health and PFAS, including through a groundbreaking study by Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in eight states that will provide information about the health effects of PFAS exposure.
In May 2021, ATSDR released the final version of the Toxicological Profile on Perfluoroalkyls. ATSDR is currently developing reports for 10 PFAS exposure assessments, which looked at exposures in more than 2,300 individuals from over 1,400 households. ATSDR is also partnering with EPA to expand on the environmental measurements gathered as part of the exposure assessments in order to identify significant non-drinking water sources of exposure. In partnership with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, HHS is developing guidance for clinicians on PFAS testing, how test results should inform clinical care, and how to advise patients on exposure reduction.
Centers for Disease Control - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting a study that will address PFAS exposures among career firefighters and includes measurement of PFAS levels in gear. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) is supporting an aggressive program of research, funding 40 active academic research projects to date. Through its Superfund Research Program, NIEHS is funding research and development of tools to remediate PFAS and better understand the fate and transport of PFAS chemicals once they are released into the environment. NIEHS and EPA are collaborating to develop a chemical class-based approach that would allow a quicker and more efficient understanding of potential health effects across the breadth of PFAS chemicals. Also, at EPA’s request, NIEHS is evaluating the published literature on specific PFAS to determine whether exposure could have immune effects that would weaken responses to vaccination. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has previously completed 4-week rodent studies to compare the toxicity of short- and long-chain PFAS. NTP has also published a two-year rodent study of PFOA to compare cancer and toxicity outcomes from exposures at different stages of life. Additionally, a systematic review was conducted to assess the immune effects of exposure to PFOA and PFOS.
Key scientific agencies are advancing much-needed innovation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting research on the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS in emergencies and using technology to reduce PFAS discharges in testing of firefighting equipment. Additionally, the FAA and DOD are working to find a PFAS-free firefighting foam alternative.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology
The National Institute of Standards and Technology are working to identify and quantify the relative risk to first responders of PFAS in firefighting gear, while the National Science Foundation recently awarded $4.1 million through its Engineering Research to Advance Solutions for Environmental PFAS (ERASE-PFAS) program to nine projects, anchored at 13 research institutions, that present an innovative approach to tackling the persistent challenge of PFAS contamination.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is mobilizing the National Science and Technology Council to form a team focused exclusively on coordinating and further accelerating this federal scientific work on PFAS.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is kicking off a high-level interagency capacity focused on PFAS actions. To facilitate the coordination of PFAS response activities across government, Administration officials convened a first meeting of the newly-formed Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS, which is being led by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. At the meeting, agency leaders discussed their progress and plans for addressing PFAS contamination and reducing the risks to American families. The newly-formed Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS will work to coordinate and help develop new policy strategies to support research, remediation, and removal of PFAS in communities across the country.
As the Biden Administration takes aim at the PFAS industry, both more information and more ongoing exposures will be identified. Workers will gain the evidence and tools to support claims for benefits flowing from occupational exposure to PFAS. As with asbestos, the extended durability of the product will likewise result in endless progress of claims by workers for benefits.
Recommended Citation: Gelman, Jon L., Occupational Exposure to PFAS Target in Biden Administration Actions Workers' Compensation Blog (Oct. 22 2021), https://workers-compensation.blogspot.com/2021/10/biden-administration-targets.html
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman 1.973.696.7900 firstname.lastname@example.org has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.
Blog: Workers ' Compensation
LinkedIn Group: Injured Workers Law & Advocacy Group
Author: "Workers' Compensation Law" West-Thomson-Reuters