13 U.S. lawmakers call on EPA to release toxic chemical study 

Answers sought about whether report was withheld from public

  • Jon Hurdle

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station is shown Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Horsham, Pa. The military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water, the Defense Department said.

A bipartisan group of 13 lawmakers including two from Pennsylvania pressed U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Friday to release a federal study on the health effects of two toxic chemicals that has been reportedly suppressed by the EPA and the White House.

In a letter, the group called on Pruitt to explain news stories saying that the study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has been blocked because it shows that two toxic, man-made chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, can harm human health at lower levels than currently stated by the EPA.

The published reports were based on internal EPA emails showing that White House officials feared a “public relations nightmare” if they had to explain a wide difference between the two standards on a matter of public health.

The ATSDR’s recommended limit for one of the chemicals, PFOS, is 10 times lower than the EPA’s health advisory level, EPA official Richard Yamada said, according to one of the emails. For PFOA, another type of PFC, the ATSDR’s recommended limit is one-seventh of the EPA’s health level, according to an estimate by Inside EPA.

Since the news reports have emerged, ATSDR has continued to say that it is preparing to release a “toxicological profile” of four chemicals including PFOA and PFOS, while insisting that it has collaborated with other federal agencies, including the EPA. The EPA, which is holding a national summit on the chemicals and related substances next week, has called for a uniform approach to the issue.

The House lawmakers, 10 Democrats and three Republicans, said they are especially concerned about reports that the study has been withheld for political rather than scientific reasons. “If true, this constitutes a clear violation of public trust,” the letter said.

It said that many communities are trying to determine whether the chemicals and others in the category of PFCs, also known as PFAS, are a threat to public health. The chemicals were used to make products such as nonstick cookware and firefighting foam; they are no longer used by U.S. manufacturers because of their links with some cancers, low birth weights and immune-system problems, but they persist in some public and private water systems.

Some of the nation’s highest concentrations have been found in New Jersey, which is now implementing health standards on the chemicals that are far stricter than the levels advocated, but not required, by the EPA, which does not regulate PFCs. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, also urged Pruitt to respond to the reports that ATSDR study was suppressed.

The lawmakers’ letter was led by Pennsylvania Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican whose district includes parts of Montgomery and Bucks Counties where high levels of PFC contamination in public and private water systems have been blamed on firefighting foam previously used by nearby military bases.

“Too many communities across the nation are plagued by ongoing, serious questions regarding the threat the contamination may pose to their health and that of their loved ones,” the letter said. “Some also doubt the commitment of the federal government to address this issue in a manner that prioritizes and adequately addresses their health concerns.”

On Thursday, ATSDR denied its study had been blocked and said it has been working with other agencies.

“Creating the PFAS Toxicological Profile has been a collaborative process,” it said in an emailed statement. “As part of the peer review process, our scientific peers at EPA and other federal agencies provide expertise on all toxicological profiles, including this profile.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported how many Democrats and how many Republicans, signed on to the letter.

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