The Massive Image
The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention discovered that most individuals within the U.S. have been uncovered to a doubtlessly dangerous class of artificial chemical substances referred to as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—PFAS, for brief. These chemical substances have traits that make them helpful in merchandise akin to nonstick cookware, waterproof clothes, and firefighting foams used to extinguish plane fires shortly and stop them from reigniting. Publicity to sure ranges of PFAS may cause destructive well being results, together with most cancers.
PFAS can discover their approach into the air, soil, and water via quite a few pathways. Furthermore, PFAS can persist within the atmosphere for many years or longer.
In gentle of the dangers that PFAS pose, Congress has taken a variety of actions to deal with PFAS contamination. These embody offering funding for grants to water techniques to deal with rising contaminants, akin to PFAS, in ingesting water and prohibiting the Division of Protection (DOD) from shopping for sure merchandise that comprise particular PFAS.
Nonetheless, a lot about these chemical substances stays unknown, together with the extent of PFAS contamination throughout the U.S. and safely eliminate or destroy supplies containing PFAS—such because the waste byproducts generated when PFAS are faraway from ingesting water.
What GAO’s Work Exhibits
Our work has recognized actions that might be taken to raised detect PFAS incidence in ingesting water, restrict human publicity to PFAS, and deal with PFAS contamination.
Examples of How Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Enter the Atmosphere
1. Detecting PFAS Incidence in Water
Greater than 4,000 kinds of PFAS exist, but a lot stays unknown about PFAS in ingesting water. In September 2022 , we found that not less than 18 % of 5,300 water techniques in six states (Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, and Vermont) had concentrations of two PFAS above the degrees at which opposed well being results can happen, as recognized by the U.S. Environmental Safety Company (EPA) in 2022. The water techniques served almost 10 million folks in states with ingesting water laws or steerage for numerous PFAS.
In 2023, EPA proposed legally enforceable limits for six PFAS chemical substances in ingesting water. EPA plans to finalize these laws in late 2023. If finalized, the laws would require public water techniques to watch for the six PFAS, notify the general public if ranges exceed the bounds, and cut back the degrees in ingesting water in the event that they exceed the bounds.
Consuming Water Could Comprise Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Nonetheless, EPA doesn’t presently have nationwide knowledge concerning the demographic traits of communities which have PFAS of their ingesting water. Such data might assist EPA higher perceive the extent to which PFAS in ingesting water contributes to the cumulative burdens of air pollution and guarantee sufficient safety from PFAS in sure communities.
- Consequently, we recommended that EPA conduct a nationwide evaluation utilizing complete knowledge to find out the demographic traits of communities with PFAS of their ingesting water. EPA agreed, however continues to be implementing the advice.
2. Limiting PFAS Publicity
In November 2022, we found that the Meals and Drug Administration (FDA) had labored with corporations to voluntarily section out sure PFAS in meals packaging. We additionally discovered that for substances like packaging that are available contact with meals, FDA doesn’t have particular authorized authority to compel corporations to supply data on the protection of the substances and the extent of their use—knowledge FDA must prioritize and conduct critiques to make sure the protection of merchandise after they’re available on the market.
Meals Packaging Could Comprise Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Consequently, we recommended that FDA request particular authorized authority from Congress to compel corporations to supply data they’ve about substances already available on the market that are available contact with meals. As of Could 2023, FDA officers stated they had been actively contemplating this suggestion.
Moreover, Congress directed DOD to cease buying sure merchandise—akin to rugs and cookware—that comprise particular PFAS by April 2023. In April 2023, we found that DOD had taken some steps to implement the prohibition. Nonetheless, DOD had not assessed stop army exchanges from procuring and reselling sure PFAS-containing objects. Moreover, DOD had not up to date its sustainable procurement steerage to implement PFAS-related insurance policies and laws. We additionally discovered that the data obtainable to information DOD’s actions is restricted.
Rugs Could Comprise Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
- Consequently, we recommended that DOD (1) develop an method to implement the prohibition on procuring sure PFAS-containing objects, and (2) replace its sustainable procurement steerage to implement PFAS-related insurance policies and laws. DOD agreed however continues to be implementing the suggestions. Moreover, we beneficial that Congress contemplate aligning prohibitions with obtainable data.
3. Treating PFAS Contamination
In July 2022 , we examined applied sciences for PFAS evaluation, detection, and remedy in numerous media, akin to ingesting water and soil. We discovered that present applied sciences can take away as much as 90 % or extra of 30 totally different PFAS from ingesting water, however that in doing so, they create PFAS-contaminated waste supplies as byproducts that then have to be managed.
For instance, sure PFAS might be successfully faraway from ingesting water via filtration with granular activated carbon—which has a big, porous floor space that pulls and binds a variety of contaminants. Nonetheless, such filters then create PFAS-contaminated waste that have to be correctly disposed of or destroyed.
How Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Filters Take away Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
It isn’t but clear whether or not current strategies and applied sciences for destroying PFAS-contaminated supplies—akin to incineration—are able to fully changing all PFAS into different, extra benign chemical kinds.
Now we have ongoing work inspecting public water techniques’ implementation of PFAS remedy strategies and efforts to securely destroy, eliminate, or retailer PFAS-contaminated waste.
Challenges and Alternatives
Along with our work on particular points associated to detecting PFAS incidence in ingesting water, limiting human publicity to PFAS, and treating PFAS contamination, we additionally carried out a expertise evaluation on broader challenges and alternatives for PFAS evaluation, detection, and remedy.
- promote analysis to deal with the restricted data on well being dangers for the massive quantity and variety of PFAS;
- develop the event of strategies to permit researchers to raised determine and quantify the 1000’s of PFAS identified to exist; and
- help the event and analysis of full-scale applied sciences for disposing of and destroying PFAS.
Extra from GAO’s Portfolio
For extra data, contact at (202) 512-3841 or GomezJ@gao.gov.