Tackling a toxic soup

Biden has tasked his EPA with taking a close look at the Trump administration’s actions on toxic chemicals, including decisions related to two dangerous contaminants in drinking water — perchlorate and lead.

Also likely in the sights of his EPA staff: “forever” chemicals that have been linked to kidney cancer and other serious health conditions. 

Biden’s campaign said it would prioritize action on these chemicals, called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are used to make non-stick and waterproof coatings, firefighting foams and food packaging. California has long pushed the federal government to take a tougher stance on them.

The Trump administration had a PFAS action plan, which included funding and research, updating a database and testing at the request of states. The EPA also announced just days before the inauguration that it would regulate two common “forever chemicals” in drinking water and proposed testing for about two dozen more. 

But environmental advocates have called that plan “toothless” and the EPA’s first steps “long overdue.” 

The Biden campaign promised to get moving on PFAS “instead of making empty promises with no follow-through.” Biden’s list includes setting drinking water limits and designating them as hazardous substances, a move that will be critical to forcing polluters to pay for clean up. 

In early February, Biden’s EPA took the extraordinary step of reviewing the Trump administration’s assessment of one of the chemicals because the “conclusions …were compromised by political interference.” The EPA removed the assessment from its website. 

Meanwhile, California has already started requiring water systems to address PFAS contamination — and it’s likely to get pricey. At least 146 public water systems serving nearly 16 million Californians have detected traces of two of the most common chemicals in well water.