Citing PFAS, Key Senators Oppose Trump’s Consumer Safety Nominee

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

WASHINGTON – Pointing to her efforts to limit regulation of PFAS in consumer products, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today announced they would oppose President Trump's nominee to chair the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Nancy Beck.

“EWG applauds Senator Capito and Senator Collins for opposing Nancy Beck, who has sought to weaken regulation of toxic chemicals like PFAS,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs. PFAS are a large family of toxic fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancer and other serious health effects.

While in a top position at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety, Beck delayed a proposed ban of deadly methylene chloride in paint strippers. Beck also stymied a proposed ban of some uses of the known carcinogen TCE, which contaminates hundreds of military bases, and played down the impact of TCE on fetal hearts. Beck also twisted federal law to frustrate EPA’s efforts to finally ban asbestos – an interpretation recently deemed illegal.

But it was Beck’s efforts to weaken consumer protections from PFAS – also called “forever” chemicals because they never break down and build up in our blood – that both senators cited in their statements of opposition.

Records released by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works show that Beck succeeded in weakening a regulation that requires companies to notify and get permission from the EPA before they start using so-called long-chain PFAS like PFOA, the most notorious of the PFAS chemicals, in consumer products ranging from carpets to wiring to clothing.

In 2015, the EPA proposed a Significant New Use Rule, or SNUR, for long-chain PFAS that applied to many products. What that means is that manufacturers of everyday products would not only have to let the EPA know they were planning to use PFOA or other long-chain PFAS but would also have to seek the agency’s approval.

In 2017, when Beck took a senior position in the EPA’s chemical safety office, she sought to exploit a provision in a new toxic chemical law to weaken the SNUR for PFAS. After she left the EPA to work at the White House, records show, Beck continued her crusade against PFAS regulation.

Earlier this year, Beck succeeded in her quest to narrow the scope of the rule by limiting it to the surface coatings of products. As a result of her efforts, a company could use PFOA inside a product without getting the EPA’s permission – even though many products degrade over time or wind up being disposed of in a landfill or incinerator.

“Since PFAS never break down, it’s only a matter of when, not whether, people will be exposed to PFAS in products,” Faber said. “But Beck has imposed her baseless view on the EPA that using PFOA and other long-chain PFAS inside products does not create ‘reasonable potential for exposure.’ This is bad science – combined with bad intentions.”

If left unchanged, many new uses of long-chain PFAS, like PFOA in consumer products, will escape the EPA’s oversight and regulation.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.