Jul 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

EPA approved toxic chemicals for fracking, new report finds

il pipelines and drilling equipment at an ERG facility are tucked into the hills east of Santa Maria as viewed on April 6, 2018.
Oil pipelines and drilling equipment at an ERG facility in Santa Barbara, Calif. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 approved the use of chemicals in fracking that can break down into toxic substances known as PFAS, despite the agency's own concerns about their toxicity, according to EPA records obtained by Physicians for Social Responsibility and made public in a new report.

Why it matters: The substances, known as "forever chemicals," accumulate inside the human body and have been linked to cancer and birth defects. The fluid that creates these substances was used in fracking for oil and gas in nearly 1,200 wells across six U.S. states, per the report, first detailed in the New York Times.

The big picture: EPA regulators had previously expressed concerns about using these chemicals, saying that they can "degrade in the environment" into substances similar to PFOA, a kind of PFAS that has been largely discontinued in the U.S. and that the EPA has found to be "toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.”

  • PFAS has been linked to cancer, birth defects, pre-eclampsia and other health outcomes.
  • The EPA's approval of these chemicals was not publicly known before the new report.

EPA spokesperson Nick Conger told the Times the chemicals were approved a decade ago and that the agency now has to affirm that new chemicals are safe before they're allowed in the marketplace

  • He added that the documents were redacted because of a statute protecting proprietary business information.

What they're saying: "The E.P.A. identified serious health risks associated with chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas extraction, and yet allowed those chemicals to be used commercially with very lax regulation," Dusty Horwitt, a researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, per the New York Times.

  • "Considering the terrible history of pollution associated with PFAS, EPA and state governments need to move quickly to ensure that the public knows where these chemicals have been used and is protected from their impacts," Horwitt said in a statement.
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