The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued orders to four manufacturers of PFAS firefighting foam to test how breathing in specific PFAS products affects humans.
The agency sent the testing orders to Chemours Co., DuPont de Nemours Inc., National Foam Inc. and Johnson Controls Inc., ordering them to determine how inhalation exposure to their firefighting foam products made with a PFAS chemical called 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide betaine affects humans.
PFAS chemicals are a group of thousands of synthetic chemicals used since the 1940s to manufacture products resistant to water, fire, grease and stains.
The chemicals have been linked to increased risk of kidney and testicular cancers, increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreased birth weight and decreased vaccine response in children.
The chemicals have been used to make foam to extinguish fire caused by liquids like gas, oil, grease and solvents since the 1970s. The foam was found to leach PFAS chemicals into soil and waterways, potentially exposing people close to and downstream from sites where the foam is used.
PFAS chemicals do not degrade in the environment and remain in the human body for at least five years after they enter. Researchers have found elevated PFAS levels in the blood of firefighters and other occupationally exposed groups.
But despite a breadth of knowledge about some PFAS chemicals, like PFOS and PFOA, data gaps exist on the effect of other widely produced and used PFAS chemicals, like 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide betaine.
The EPA said the testing orders will help fill those gaps.
“For far too long, families across America, especially those in underserved communities, have suffered from PFAS. High-quality, robust data on PFAS helps EPA to better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by these chemicals,” said EPA administrator Michael S. Regan. “Our communities deserve transparency from the companies that use or produce these substances about their potential environmental and human health impacts.”
The EPA has the authority to issue the orders due to the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 law which gives the agency the authority to require certain reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, as well as the power to impose some restrictions relating to chemical substances.
The testing will include an analysis of 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide betaine’s physical-chemical properties; its toxicokinetic properties, or how it is absorbed, distributed, metabolized and excreted; and how much of the chemical enters the body when inhaled.
The state of Indiana only recently began confronting its own potential PFAS contamination.
The state in 2020 banned the use of PFAS firefighting foam during training, except under certain circumstances.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management in 2021 launched a three-phase PFAS sampling project for community water systems. In its first phase of testing, the agency detected various PFAS chemicals in the treated drinking water of at least 10 community water systems in Indiana serving between 3,300 and 10,000 customers.
IDEM will now test water systems serving less than 3,300 customers and will test the state’s largest water systems beginning in 2023.
The state has also established a voluntary program for firefighting departments to rid themselves of PFAS firefighting foam stockpiles at no cost, the PFAS Foam Collection Initiative.