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Guest Column of the Day- the Destruction of the Planet is Bipartisan

The Obama EPA Should Be Ashamed Allowing frackers to use "forever chemicals" is flatly egregious, and the Environmental Protection Agency did just that in 2011. By Charles P. Pierce Jul 12, 2021

Not that I want to be too dramatic, but somebody who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama Administration deserves to be retroactively keelhauled. Back in the early 2000s, a lawyer named Bob Bilott took on the cause of some citizens of Parkersburg, West Virginia whose livestock was dying, and who alleged that they were being poisoned through their water supply by something produced by a DuPont factory that was the town’s primary employer. For years, Bilott pursued the case until he discovered within an avalanche of documents references to something called PFOA, a substance vital to the production of Teflon cookware and other modern miracles, which accounted for $1 billion worth of DuPont’s revenue. Other documents indicated that DuPont knew as early as 1984 that PFOA was carcinogenic, but that it had kept that information to itself.

Gradually, the science coalesced on the dangers of fluorocarbons, or PFAS. As significantly, evidence accumulated on their widespread presence in the biosphere and the almost supernatural persistence in it. Estimates hold that PFAS are present in the drinking water of 80 million Americans, and other estimates hold that 95 percent of Americans have measurable amounts of PFAS in their blood. As the research intensified, PFAS picked up a new name. They became known as “forever chemicals.” And the thing about “forever chemicals” is that they are, well, forever.

On Monday, based on EPA documents, the New York Times revealed that, back in 2011, the agency allowed various companies in the extraction industries to use chemicals in the fracking process that break down into PFAS.

The E.P.A. in 2011 approved the use of these chemicals, used to ease the flow of oil from the ground, despite the agency’s own grave concerns about their toxicity, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times. The E.P.A.’s approval of the three chemicals wasn’t previously publicly known. The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a nonprofit group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, are among the first public indications that PFAS, long-lasting compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” may be present in the fluids used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At this point, we return to Bob Bilott and Parkersburg.

In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, E.P.A. scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The E.P.A. scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out.

Self-regulation continues to be a joy.

The documents, dating from the Obama administration, are heavily redacted because the E.P.A. allows companies to invoke trade-secret claims to keep basic information on new chemicals from public release. Even the name of the company that applied for approval is redacted, and the records give only a generic name for the chemicals: fluorinated acrylic alkylamino copolymer.

Because hiding the effects of chemicals has worked so well in the past. The findings underscore how, for decades, the nation’s laws governing various chemicals have allowed thousands of substances to go into commercial use with relatively little testing. The E.P.A.’s assessment was carried out under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to review and regulate new chemicals before they are manufactured or distributed.

But for years, that law had gaps that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals, experts say. Furthermore, the Toxic Substances Control Act grandfathered in thousands of chemicals already in commercial use, including many PFAS chemicals.

Fracking didn’t have the best environmental reputation before this most recent revelation. At the very least, it appears that the laws covering the aftereffects of the process need what bureaucrats would call a further rethink. After all, 95 percent of the people in this country already have skin in this game.

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