An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: For much of the past decade, oil companies engaged in drilling and fracking have been allowed to pump into the ground chemicals that, over time, can break down into toxic substances known as PFAS — a class of long-lasting compounds known to pose a threat to people and wildlife — according to internal documents from the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. in 2011 approved the use of these chemicals, used to ease the flow of oil from the ground, despite the agency’s own grave concerns about their toxicity, according to the documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times. The E.P.A.’s approval of the three chemicals wasn’t previously publicly known. The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by a nonprofit group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, are among the first public indications that PFAS, long-lasting compounds also known as “forever chemicals,” may be present in the fluids used during drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
In a consent order issued for the three chemicals on Oct. 26, 2011, E.P.A. scientists pointed to preliminary evidence that, under some conditions, the chemicals could “degrade in the environment” into substances akin to PFOA, a kind of PFAS chemical, and could “persist in the environment” and “be toxic to people, wild mammals, and birds.” The E.P.A. scientists recommended additional testing. Those tests were not mandatory and there is no indication that they were carried out. “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,” said Dusty Horwitt, researcher at Physicians for Social Responsibility. […] There is no public data that details where the E.P.A.-approved chemicals have been used. But the FracFocus database, which tracks chemicals used in fracking, shows that about 120 companies used PFAS — or chemicals that can break down into PFAS; the most common of which was “nonionic fluorosurfactant” and various misspellings — in more than 1,000 wells between 2012 and 2020 in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Because not all states require companies to report chemicals to the database, the number of wells could be higher. Nine of those wells were in Carter County, Okla., within the boundaries of Chickasaw Nation. “This isn’t something I was aware of,” said Tony Choate, a Chickasaw Nation spokesman. […] The findings underscore how, for decades, the nation’s laws governing various chemicals have allowed thousands of substances to go into commercial use with relatively little testing. The E.P.A.’s assessment was carried out under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to review and regulate new chemicals before they are manufactured or distributed. “[T]he Toxic Substances Control Act grandfathered in thousands of chemicals already in commercial use, including many PFAS chemicals,” the report says. “In 2016, Congress strengthened the law, bolstering the E.P.A.â(TM)s authority to order health testing, among other measures. The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, still identifies the Toxic Substances Control Act as a program with one of the highest risks of abuse and mismanagement.” According to a recent report from the Intercept, “the E.P.A. office in charge of reviewing toxic chemicals tampered with the assessments of dozens of chemicals to make them appear safer.”