On June 25th and 26th the EPA held a New England PFAS engagement event at Exeter High School in Exeter, New Hampshire. The meeting featured state, regional, and some federal EPA officials, in addition to community members from New England states. The first evening prioritized community experiences dealing with PFAS-related contamination and exposure. EPA officials (Alexandra Dunn, Regional Administrator U.S. EPA Region 1, Peter Grevatt, U.S. EPA, Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, Jim Murphy, Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA Region 1) provided opening remarks, and restated Administrator Pruitt’s four commitments following the May 2018 D.C. PFAS summit: “1. Evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. 2. Propose designating PFOA and PFOS as ‘hazardous substances’ through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially CERCLA Section 102, 3. Develop groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites by fall of this year. 4. Collaborate with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS.”
Community presentations and testimony focused on the health, social, psychological, and economic impacts of PFAS contamination. Many individuals detailed the unusual and severe health effects that they personally have experienced, their family members have experienced, and patterns of illness they observe in their communities. Individuals described losing personal happiness, trust in state officials, and faith in the capacity of government stakeholders to protect public health ahead of private interests. Many community members have started local groups and a National PFAS Contamination Coalition, in large part due to organizing by the Toxics Action Center (TAC). Networked community members described sharing information, comparing how different local and state organizations respond to contamination across sites, and are asking for more equitable responses state and federal responses to all communities facing PFAS contamination. The Coalition members had clear asks of EPA, especially to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 1 part per trillion total for all PFASs combined. Repeatedly community members asked for chemical class-based approaches to PFASs, given the urgency and known hazards surrounding so many compounds in this class. David Bond mentioned that the Governor of New York and Attorney General filed a lawsuit against fire fighting foam manufacturers using PFOA and PFOS. He suggested that the EPA recommend that the Department of Justice pursue similar litigation in order to compel chemical manufacturers to pay for the costs of drinking water filtration, remediation, and other growing damages. Andrea Amico, speaking on behalf of many community groups in the region, asked that EPA not allow the introduction of any new PFASs into production until we have a better handle on the thousands already in use. Many other asks were made of government officials, including requests for medical monitoring, biomonitoring, and action to compel polluters to pay.
The day-long meeting on June 26th (8:00-3:00 pm) predominately featured presentations by state and regional officials, with one 30 minute presentation by Andrea Amico from Testing for Pease. The state officials broadly identified a need for more federal resources, stronger standards, and the difficulties of dealing with a chemical class with unprecedented mobility, durability, and ubiquitous exposure. Federal and regional EPA leadership reiterated that there is high-level concern about PFASs, and that they are coordinating people and investigating this issue. EPA staff did not provide substantive information on the history of the agency’s engagement on PFASs, nor explain the logic of EPA national or Regions decision to take action on this class of chemicals at this time. Based on the presentations, it appears as though high-level officials are taking action on this because of significant public concern. This raises questions, many of which community members and grassroots organizations asked during the event: how did we let this problem happen, and what do we need to do to make sure that this problem doesn’t continue to grow, let alone happen again?
By Lauren Richter
PFAS Project Team