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EPA Passes Regulations for Forever Chemicals: Good News and Bad News

Photo credit: Demphoto

By Stephen Lester.

Earlier month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized drinking water standards for a group of substances known as Forever Chemicals. These chemicals include PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, PFHXs, PFBS, and GenX and are generally described as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS chemicals are present everywhere in the environment, degrade very slowly and posed health risks to people who are exposed to them. They are called forever chemicals because they break down so slowing that they are around for centuries, essentially forever.

This new regulation requires that these forever chemicals be added to the substances that EPA requires all public drinking water systems to routinely monitor. Some water companies will start testing for PFAS in drinking water as early as 2027 in 3 years, but these restrictions don’t go into effect until 2029, five years from now. This regulation does not apply to private or individual wells, just to large public water systems.

While it’s good news that PFAS chemicals will be restricted in drinking water by 2029, this decision also highlights the slow cumbersome way that chemicals are regulated in this country. Although EPA made clear that there are significant and severe adverse health effects associated with these chemicals, the agency did not restrict their production or use in consumer products, just their presence in drinking water, and not for another 5 years. So, Dupont, 3M as well as other companies will continue to make these chemicals for use in consumer products. Furthermore, this new regulation only applies to 5 of the thousands of different PFAS compounds that have been identified.

Why does this make any sense? It certainly does not make any public health sense. EPA acknowledges the adverse health effects of these chemicals at extremely low levels, to the point where some researchers feel that there is no safe level of exposure to PFAS chemicals, yet EPA takes no action to restrict the production of these substances and gives water companies five years to meet its new standards. And for the companies that manufactured these chemicals – primarily DuPont (and several subsidiaries) and 3M – there’s no action against them or accountability for producing these substances for more than 50 years, even though for decades they opposed any regulatory action by EPA.

Over these years of delay, these companies slowly began moving away from the  PFAS chemicals that were targeted as “bad actors” – PFOA and PFOS – and began producing and using other PFAS chemicals about which virtually nothing was known about their toxicity. EPA has allowed this to happen even though the adverse health effects for most of these substances are not known. Somehow EPA seems good with issuing no restrictions on the production of potentially toxic consumer products and instead offers general advice to the public on steps they can take to avoid PFAS chemicals if they choose to do so.

There is something seriously wrong with our system for regulating toxic chemicals when the companies that use dangerous toxic chemicals to make consumer products for profit get off Scot free and the EPA offers advice to individuals on how to avoid these toxic products.

Industry began using these polyfluoroalkyl substances in the 1940s in consumer products such as nonstick cookware (Teflon) and in food packaging, to waterproof clothes, stainproof furniture and in certain manufacturing processes. They were also widely used in firefighting foams to extinguished fires, especially at airports and on training grounds for firefighters. PFAS chemicals gained public notoriety about 10 years ago when they began showing up in drinking water at military bases, such as the Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. The US military estimates that there are over 600 military bases with PFAS contamination.

The adverse health effects associated with these forever chemicals include reproductive effects; developmental effects such as low birth weight, bone variations, and behavioral changes; damaged immune function such as reduced ability to fight infections; interference with the body’s natural hormone functions, including the thyroid; kidney and testicular cancer; liver damage; and increased cholesterol.  

For specific details about EPA’s new PFAS drinking water regulation, click here.

Toxic Tuesdays

1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB)

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB)

1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB) – also known as p-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB) – is a colorless solid chemical that readily evaporates into the air. 1,4-DCB does not occur in nature, and it is often produced for use in deodorants or disinfectants because it has a strong odor that humans can smell at very low concentrations. It is commonly used in household products like mothballs and deodorizing sprays. It also has industrial uses as a pesticide ingredient and a precursor to commercial dyes. 1,4-DCB can enter the environment through its household uses, pesticides, and industrial waste disposal. 1,4-DCB mostly enters the environment as a vapor, and people are likely to inhale it in homes and buildings where it is used. Solid 1,4-DCB can also bind to soil and remain there for long periods of time, but people are less likely to be exposed to it in this way.

Inhaling high concentrations of 1,4-DCB can cause irritation or burning sensations in the eyes and nose. It can also cause coughing, nausea, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, and liver dysfunction. Touching products that contain 1,4-DCB can also cause burning sensations on the skin. In studies of laboratory animals, 1,4-DCB exposure caused liver, kidney, and blood defects as well as liver cancer. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer both classify it as being reasonably anticipated to cause cancer.

Because of the danger to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum 1,4-DCB concentration that can be present in drinking water without observing adverse health effects. The European Union has gone even further, banning use of 1,4-DCB in mothballs and air fresheners because of its potential to cause cancer. Similar regulation in the US could protect more people from the health risks of 1,4-DCB exposure.

Learn about more toxics

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Bridging the Gap Between Science and Action

By Jordan Martinez.

As an intern at the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, I have written several papers on the effects of different chemicals on the environment and on human health. The purpose of these articles is to provide information for chemically impacted communities throughout the country. I am working with community members in East Palestine, Ohio. Their questions led to me writing these papers, however these questions have applications beyond the community in East Palestine, and can be helpful to other chemically impacted communities around the world.

The first of these papers that I wrote was on the burning of lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries, such as those in electric vehicles like Teslas, release several toxic gasses when they catch on fire. In this paper, I discussed what those gasses are, how they affect human health, and what makes them from more common chemicals used in everyday life, such as fluoride in toothpaste. This paper came from questions from residents in East Palestine, however the information shared in this paper represents helpful information for residents in other communities as well. Some communities may live near a facility that produces lithium batteries, where risk from these gasses may be higher during an accident. Some individuals may work with lithium ion batteries on a regular basis, such as  car mechanics. These papers serve to help individuals overall, and I’m glad to be making this information available to the public for free.

I’m currently writing about the use of the Affordable Care Act for chemically impacted communities. Within the law of the Affordable Care Act exists Section 1881A, which outlines the use of medicare benefits for individuals exposed to environmental health. I am investigating how this section of the ACA can be utilized for chemically impacted communities, and what the exact process is for utilizing medicare benefits for impacted individuals.

These papers highlight educational health and science information that may benefit communities, especially those working with CHEJ. It is my hope that scientific information can be easily accessible to communities in a digestible manner. Not everyone is a scientist, and for community leaders working to help their communities, they may not be able to read scientific papers. This may be due to not having the capabilities to read papers, since academic research papers are often filled with jargon that can be quite difficult to understand for non-scientists. Another reason is simply time. Reading papers is time consuming, and even if a community leader can read papers, there may be too many tasks that need to be done, limiting the absorption of scientific knowledge, therefore preventing the use of scientific information in helping to benefit communities. This is why it is crucial that we make inclusive science communication, so that community stakeholders can be involved in scientific knowledge without having to be scientists. I write these papers for CHEJ so I can help bridge the gaps between science and the community, and I am grateful for the work of others who do the same.

Toxic Tuesdays


Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


Barium is a silver-colored metal which is found in the earth in compounds with other elements. Many barium compounds have industrial uses: barium sulfate is used as a drilling lubricant by the oil and gas industries to facilitate drilling through rock; barium carbonate is a rat poison; and barium oxide is used in the production of electronics and glass. Barium can enter the air through the production of barium-containing compounds and the improper disposal of barium-containing waste. It can then enter the soil and water. Barium compounds that do not dissolve in water can persist in the soil and water for a long time.

People are most likely to be exposed to barium by drinking contaminated water. Barium compounds that do not dissolve in water – like barium sulfate and barium carbonate – are not known to be harmful to human health. However, barium compounds that do dissolve in water – like barium chloride and barium hydroxide – can harm human health because they release barium ions into the body. Barium ions interfere with the normal electrical impulses generated in the brain, muscles, and heart. Exposure can cause gastrointestinal dysfunction such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. It can also cause anxiety, disorientation, difficulty breathing, decreased blood pressure, numbness, muscle weakness, and paralysis. The eyes, immune system, respiratory system, and skin can also be damaged by barium exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a limit on how much barium can safely be in drinking water, but almost 800 Superfund sites are known to have barium contamination, suggesting that there may be potential for barium exposure in some communities.

Learn about more toxics

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The PFAS Fight

By Leila Waid.

Environmental justice is in a constant legal battle that, depending on the court’s philosophy, sometimes sees wins for public health safety and but other times faces significant setbacks. March saw a major regression for plastic pollution regulation and the ongoing fight to ban PFAS. On March 21, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals – a conservative-leaning court that has obstructed substantial progressive policies over the years – blocked EPA efforts to ban PFAS in plastic containers.

The company behind the lawsuit is Inhance Technology, who specializes in treating plastics. Some of their listed services include “barrier packaging” and “surface technologies,” which they use to make plastics stronger and more durable. Although not explicitly stated on their website, the process by which they treat these plastics includes PFOA, a type of PFAS. PFAS are used in various products for their ability to repel water and oil. These properties allow for the stronger and more durable plastics. However they do not disclose or make it clear to the consumer that they are using a controversial chemical that has been linked in many health studies to various diseases and even death. In fact, Inhance Technologies goes as far as to promote their company as being eco-friendly, stating on their website that they “want to make things better for the world” by reducing plastic. This and other similar statements on the company website make it seem like they are protecting the environment when, in reality, they are contributing to the plastic pollution that endangers everyone’s health – a clear example of greenwashing.

In December 2023, the EPA sent a notice to Inhance Technologies to stop using PFAS in their manufacturing process. In response, they sued the agency. The main debate in the case was if the EPA had the right to put a stop to the process since Inhance had been using PFAS for over 40 years. The EPA argued that it only discovered the usage in 2020 so it should be considered a new process. Ultimately The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Inhance, stating the EPA did not have the right to place a restriction since it was not a new process, even if the EPA just found out about it. However, what if a company never discloses the use of harmful chemicals to the EPA? Using the logic and reasoning of this case, the EPA would be unable to block that process because they didn’t catch it in time. Notedly, the court did not deny the dangers of PFAS to the human body; they only overturned the restriction because the process was not new to Inhance.

What is most frustrating about environmental justice setbacks such as these is that, while the litigation is ongoing, the PFAS, or forever chemicals continue to be manufactured and cause massive pollution. Inhance Technologies argued that they can’t be restricted by the EPA under Section 5 because they have been treating plastics with PFAS for forty years. How much pollution have they added to the environment? How much more will be added by organizations such as these that hide behind a façade of greenwashing and yet contribute to so much of the environmental and human health degradation faced today. 

Court cases can take years to win. And during those years, PFAS continues to bioaccumulate within our bodies and environment. So, while immense national-level policies, such as the PFAS ban that the EPA tried to put in place, are extremely important, we also need to focus on individual and local-level change. For example, we must educate ourselves and our communities about the dangers of PFAS and become informed consumers of what plastic-containing products we buy. If we know that a company uses PFAS in its manufacturing process or partners with companies that do, then we need to be mindful of that and boycott those products. 

Backyard Monthly

Backyard Monthly – April 2024

April 2024
CHEJ's "All In" - Spotlight of the Month

The East Palestine, Ohio train derailment underscores the need for vigilance in ensuring the safety of our communities and the environment. By understanding the impacts of such incidents and taking proactive measures, we can work towards building resilient and sustainable communities. It hasn’t been long since the one year anniversary of the train derailment, and we find it absoutely imperative to keep the momentum brought on by informed awareness.

CHEJ wants to provide you with a central hub of information as a means to understand the incident, its implications, and steps being taken to mitigate its effects. In the days and weeks to come CHEJ will be curating collections of information, both from CHEJ and informative articles from around the web in one convienent location. 

Toxic Tuesday

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is difficult to detect because it has no smell, taste, or color. It can be produced from both natural and human-made sources when carbon fuel – such as gasoline, wood, coal, charcoal, propane, natural gas … [Read more]

We previously addressed individual variability and how it affects a person’s response to toxic chemicals. Another important factor in toxicology is a person’s individual sensitivity to chemicals. How sensitive a person is to chemical exposure… [Read more]

Training Calls

Strategic planning can make the difference between winning and losing a campaign. Strategy is a guide to reaching your goal. It is working smarter, not harder, which will enable you to use the resources you have for as long as it takes to win…. [Watch now]

Backyard Talk Blogs

By Sharon Franklin. The Superfund program was established in 1980 to clean up sites contaminated sites with hazardous substances.  On February 27, 2023 CBS News reported that the Environmental Protection Agency[Read more]

By Jordan Martinez. Since working with the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, I have met and worked with Jami Wallace, President of the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment. I have found working wit [Read more]

By Stephen Lester. It is well understood how dangerous lead is to everyone especially children who are still growing and thus more susceptible to its toxic effects. Scientists have continued to find adverse effects from exposure to lower[Read more]

Do you find this information useful? Please consider pitching in and making a contribution to CHEJ. We appreciate your support!

As the blossoms bloom and the world awakens to the vibrant spirit of spring, we at the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) are energized to continue our mission of safeguarding our communities, our environment, and the health of future generations.

Spring is a time of renewal and growth, and it’s with this spirit that we reach out to you today. Your support has always been the lifeblood of our organization, enabling us to take action against environmental injustices and advocate for policies that prioritize the well-being of our friends and neighbors.

Together, we can create a world where every person has access to clean air, clean water, and a safe environment to call home. This spring, as nature comes alive with possibilities, we invite you to join us in our mission for a healthier, more just world. Your donation today will sow the seeds of change that will blossom into a brighter future for us all.