A couple of weeks ago, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt called PFAS groundwater contamination “a national priority” and pledged action at an EPA national PFAS leadership summit.

 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that include perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluoro-octanesulfonate (PFOS), GenX, and many other chemicals. They can be found in a variety of products such as food packaging, nonstick household products and fire-fighting foams, having been manufactured and used in the United States since the 1940s.

Recent studies have shown that exposure to PFAS over time can lead to adverse human health effects such as low infant birth weights, cancer and thyroid hormone disruption. In response, the EPA issued drinking water health advisories of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS in 2016 and has established methods to measure, treat and monitor PFAS contamination.

Communities across the country are concerned. At the former Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and active Horsham Air Guard Station in Horsham, PA, the military is working to stop the unregulated chemicals from flowing into local waterways. In September, the Air Guard installed a carbon filtration system on a stormwater basin that at one point measured water containing 11,700 ppt of PFAS. The filter worked before heavy rain overwhelmed it and the filter became clogged with storm debris. The filter is to be replaced with the addition of a pre-treatment system to prevent it from clogging in the future.

Similarly, a car wash has been cited for PFAS pollution in North Hampton, NH where readings of up to 158.8 ppt combined for PFOA and PFOS were captured by New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services in wells on the car wash property. The violation allows the state to enforce action to address the contamination, thought to be traveling into Aquarion Water Company’s supply for the Hampton, North Hampton and Rye communities.

And as communities battle to protect their water supply, many politicians are calling for regulators to revise their drinking water health advisories. “PFAS chemicals are dangerous to human health and can cause cancers, birth defects, thyroid and liver disease, and other serious conditions,” said State Representative Winnie Brinks, a democrat from Michigan who has proposed a PFAS limit of 5 ppt in her state, which would be the nation’s lowest. “The state has a constitutional obligation to protect and promote public health in Michigan and that includes making sure that our drinking water is clean.”

Alaska Community Action on Toxics Executive Director Pam Miller believes peer-reviewed studies confirm health effects at concentrations well below the current federal and state health advisory level of 70 ppt. “We’ve seen, in the last couple of years in particular, a burgeoning of evidence about the health effects of these chemicals at the very low part-per-trillion level,” Miller said in an interview with Alaska Public Media. “Things like immune system dysfunction, certain types of cancers, kidney and testicular cancer can occur at very low levels of exposure.”

The EPA is expected to release its PFAS Management Plan in the Fall of 2018.