As the dust settles from this historic election, it is important we take a moment to look forward to how the outcome may alter the role of science in the next administration.
Joe Biden pledged throughout his campaign to “follow the science” to determine how to address the Covid-19 pandemic. This could be a positive development if it helps to control the spread of the virus and spur an economic recovery. However, I caution his team to ensure that the facts on which they rely are based on objective and unbiased research, not on agenda-driven science intended to accomplish a pre-ordained outcome.
How this promise will impact public policy—both in dealing with the virus and in areas such as environmental policy—is yet to be seen. The first test—the regulation of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds—may come early in a Biden presidency.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) announced plans to introduce legislation that would require the EPA to set cleanup standards and enforceable drinking water limits for some PFAS compounds and said the bill would send a signal to the Biden Administration that controlling PFAS is “a top priority in the new Congress.” A similar bill was passed by the House in the previous Congress but never moved in the Senate.
PFAS compounds have been used for more than 60 years and are critical components in products as varied as semiconductor chips, food packaging, medical stents, firefighting foam, aerospace components, non-stick cookware, and stain and water-resistant fabric. They break down slowly and can survive extreme variations in temperature and air and water pressure, which means that trace amounts of the compounds are found in the bloodstreams of most Americans.
The two original PFAS compounds—PFOA and PFOS—have been voluntarily phased out decades ago because of the potential dangers of long-term exposure to humans. Efforts by government agencies and manufacturers are underway in many states to clean up sites [ … ]