“Chemistry of Concealment”: US industry lobbyists invested millions to block PFAS regulation, finds research
13 Nov 2023 — Food & Water Watch (FWW) has published a report demonstrating how lobbyists have hindered PFAS legislation over the past four years.
The report titled “PFAS and the Chemistry of Concealment” recommends that the US government tackle PFAS contamination by adopting a broad definition, finalizing regulations and expanding them to the entire class of PFAS, banning the chemicals, funding their data and research and investing in public water systems.
For decades, weak US regulations have allowed multi-billion dollar chemical corporations to conceal the dangers of the toxic compounds they have polluted the world with, asserts the non-profit organization FWW. This includes PFAS, termed “forever chemicals” since they do not readily break down in the environment.
Dr. Anna Lennquist, senior toxicologist at ChemSec, identifies the industry’s actions as “very frustrating and worrying.”
“Imagine if these resources would be used on innovation of alternatives instead. This is a lost opportunity for the chemical industry to show that they really are the providers of solutions for the future,” she tells Packaging Insights.
Lobbyists claim that mobile phones, computers and cars will disappear with a PFAS ban, ignoring derogations for these applications. “Much of the lobbying arguments are also false. They claim that mobile phones, computers, cars and medicines will completely disappear if a ban goes through, and ask for sympathy from the general public through childish cartoons. Over and again, the industry pretends as if the ban is a general ban, while there are, in fact, derogations for exactly those uses.”
PFAS are today found virtually everywhere and economic analyses estimate cleanup costs to be in the billions. As the dangers of PFAS became public and legislative efforts to regulate PFAS and fund remediation grew, so did lobbying by the chemical industry, finds FWW.
The organization reviewed PFAS-related legislation introduced between 2019 and 2022, along with lobbying disclosures from clients of major PFAS manufacturers and users covering the same period.
FWW found that the US Congress introduced more than 60 bills related to PFAS during the 116th Congress (2019 to 2020), and over 70 during the 117th Congress (2021 to 2022). Four bills became law, along with the four annual National Defense Authorization Acts that included PFAS amendments. “None of these addresses the underlying responsibility of the industry or provides close to sufficient funding,” asserts FWW.
During the same time, PFAS bills and issues appear in reports from lobbyists representing six major PFAS manufacturers, along with “historic” manufacturers Dow and DuPont. “These lobbying reports collectively total US$55.7 million in expenditures spent on PFAS and other issues,” finds the report.
Furthermore, one key target of major PFAS manufacturers was the PFAS Action Act of 2019 and 2021 — a comprehensive bill that would have designated two PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund program. The eight PFAS manufacturers paid a combined total of 28 lobbyists to use the 2019 version of the bill, states the environmental organization.
The role of Big Oil FWW’s report identifies Big Oil and Gas as a major player lobbying on PFAS.
FWW says that The American Chemistry Council, the lobbying arm of the chemical industry, has publicly opposed PFAS regulation and “actively lobbied on PFAS each year we reviewed (2019 to 2022). Reports from ACC lobbyists mention numerous bills, including those that target environmental and drinking water standards, and total US$58.7 million in expenditures spent on PFAS and other issues.”
The organization’s report identifies Big Oil and Gas (which has used PFAS in fracking fluids) as another major player, including the American Petroleum Institute, “which sent lobbyists to Congress and federal agencies each year to lobby on PFAS.”
The comprehensive PFAS Action Act passed the House but died in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “Two-thirds of current committee members received campaign contributions from the PFAS manufacturers we reviewed. More than half received contributions from the American Chemistry Council, and nearly half received contributions from top oil and gas companies. The current Republican minority took in 84% of these contributions,” says FWW.
FWW flags that there is much to accomplish in regulating PFAS and mitigating the chemical industry’s campaign of concealment. But current goals face the “intense headwinds” of “immense” corporate spending and influence on federal lawmakers and agency officials.
By Natalie Schwertheim
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