Emory Ford: What is enough for science?

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Posted: 10/01/2021 11:06:59 AM

This is to respond to Mark Alliegro’s guest column, “Let science decide chemicals forever in water.”

The forever chemicals are known as PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency has studied the effects of PFAS and PFAS on human health for over 10 years. Based on 10 years of work, the EPA made initial recommendations on levels of safety in drinking water. Recently, Massachusetts issued regulations on acceptable levels of PFAS in municipal water.

Alliegro advocates that policymakers wait until all the science is available before making policy decisions. This raises the question of what is enough science. There is always another experiment to be done. Waiting for science to be complete is a prescription for inaction.

When Rachel Carson sounded the alarm on DDT, industry responded that DDT was essential. Time has shown that DDT is harmful and that there are alternatives. When the alarm bells rang over the effect of freon on the ozone layer, industry responded that freon was needed. Time has shown that freon interferes with the ozone layer and that there are alternatives.

The tobacco industry has opposed regulation for years because there was not enough scientific data to prove that cigarettes caused lung cancer. It is now accepted that cigarettes cause lung cancer. When the alarm sounded on lead, the industry responded by saying it was needed for gasoline and paint. The toxic effects of lead are now well known, paint and gasoline have been reformulated without lead.

PFAS, as a class of chemical compounds, have many interesting uses, but they also pose a threat to public health. Data collected by the EPA documented public health threats and recommended limits for concentration in drinking water. It is appropriate for policy makers to establish a policy on known science with an understanding that over time science changes as more data becomes available.

More will be learned about PFAS for sure, but in the meantime regulations to protect public health are appropriate. It is also likely that alternatives to PFAS can be developed. Industry and the public are better served to seek alternatives to PFAS than to oppose policies that protect the public.

Emory Ford

Wayland


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