EPA’s Administrator Must Be Serious About Protecting Us From PFAS. Wheeler Is Not.

February 1, 2019 | 10:34 am
Photo: Alex Edelman/AP Images
Genna Reed
Former Director of Policy Analysis

After Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing for the agency’s top job earlier this month, he responded to a long list of questions for the record that had been submitted by senators. In the questions related to the class of toxic chemicals, PFAS, Wheeler claimed that “EPA continues to take concrete steps, in cooperation with our federal and state partners, to address PFAS and ensure all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water.” Yet, Politico reported earlier this week that the agency will not be setting an enforceable limit for the two most prevalent PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, in drinking water. The 70 ppt health advisory will remain in effect for the chemicals, but without regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, water utilities do not have to regularly test for or remove the toxins from our water. So what is Wheeler referring to when he mentions “concrete steps” and clean and safe drinking water for all? As Acting Administrator, Wheeler has done a whole lot of talking about “action” while affected communities across the country continue to struggle with contaminated water sources and associated health issues. In fact, as EPA stalls on its action plan (scheduled to be released in December and now at least a month late), even more cases of contamination along with more questions on how to manage these “forever chemicals” are arising.

Additionally, in his six months serving as Acting Administrator, Wheeler has had ample opportunity to be transparent about what went on at the EPA during interagency review of ATSDR’s report on PFAS last year. Yet questions still remain on the conflicts of interest at hand as internal emails hint at former American Chemistry Council staffer and current Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Nancy Beck, working on matters (like PFAS) that affect her former employer. Representatives from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to Acting Administrator Wheeler just this Tuesday asking him for answers regarding EPA’s involvement in stalling the release of the ATSDR’s toxicological profile on PFAS.

As the Senate Environment and Public Works committee gears up to vote on Acting Administrator Wheeler’s nomination next week, senators should think about the wants and needs of their constituents. Clean water is certainly at or near the top. There is a reason that the PFAS task force just formed by members of the House of Representatives is bipartisan. Water contamination from PFAS does not discriminate based on party affiliation. It knows no geographic bounds.

PFAS contamination has been found at military sites across 37 states (Source: UCS 2018).

Not only does it seep from manufacturing facilities and military bases (see figure above from our recent fact sheet), but from household products that we use every day, like pans, microwave popcorn bags, and treated carpets. EPA has the power to act but based on what we’ve seen from Wheeler so far on climate, scientific integrity, and now chemicals, it’s unlikely that he is the leader that we so desperately need to put meaning behind the “Protection” in Environmental Protection Agency.

Some senators have already expressed their concerns about Acting Administrator Wheeler’s lack of action on PFAS. Senator Cory Gardner, a key swing vote on Wheeler’s nomination, wants to see federal action and said, “I think it’s very important that we get as much information as we can and then act appropriately.” West Virginia senator Shelly Moore Capito, who sits on the committee overseeing Wheeler’s nomination, expressed concerns about EPA’s actions on PFAS earlier this week but is now supportive despite all signs pointing to him not being the right person to lead the agency.

Other senators from key states are also concerned about the agency’s lack of action. That’s why now is the time to ask both of your senators to vote no on Acting Administrator Wheeler’s confirmation. You can call the Senate switchboard and ask to be put in touch with your senators at (202) 224-3121.