Related — US Senate hearing gives NH PFAS activists ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ platform

Read the full article by Paula Gardner

“The U.S. Senate elevated federal attention on PFAS contamination Wednesday, but the messages on the health risks, environmental danger and whether any national criteria will be established for the chemicals left some people at a subcommittee hearing surprised and frustrated.

The bottom line from the Environmental Protection Administration: It has no plans to reduce the lifetime health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion of the chemical family that is found in millions of Americans’ drinking water and water systems.

That comes as a federal health official says that both dermal exposure and the chemical vapors present risks in addition to ingestion – raising concerns among Michigan residents told that they don’t have to worry about swimming or bathing in contaminated water.

And while the EPA now seems open to considering the per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals as a class when it comes to health risks – opening the door to regulating thousands of PFAS-related compounds amid their increased uses – the makeup of the hearing panel suggests that bipartisan support for changes may not yet exist.

By the end of the two-part event, as three community representatives shared their personal stories, only three Democratic senators remained on the panel: One from Michigan and two from New Hampshire. Chairman Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, was the lone Republican to sit in earlier as a group of up to eight U.S. senators took testimony.

‘There was very poor participation,’ said Cathy Wusterbarth, a leader in Need Our Water, the PFAS cleanup advocacy group in Ocsoda, Michigan. ‘I felt like we were singing to the choir.’

Details emerged during the hearing that raised further frustrations for people like Wusterbarth and travelers from west Michigan, New Hampshire and other locations that are testing positive for high levels of the ‘forever chemicals’ that confound scientists…

Birnbaum’s comments drew concern from the audience of about 150 people, as they heard her describe PFAS as persistent, ubiquitous, and dangerous across the entire class of chemicals – with health risks like cancer, kidney disease, and cognitive changes for children exposed to high levels.

The PFAS family includes at least 4,700 versions, with new forms of the chemicals still emerging and used in industry and consumer products. Most regulations – like in Michigan – target only PFOA and PFOS.

report released earlier this year by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommended that the U.S. consider minimum risk levels for those two forms of PFAS.

That report, however, is not influencing the EPA to change its approach to them…

Yet the EPA still hasn’t set a national enforcement standard for drinking water. Communities look to the 70 ppt health advisory as they set PFAS benchmarks, despite the number’s lack of regulatory weight. It remains a guideline and not a rule.

The agency is, however, exploring the designation of PFAS as a hazardous substance, which could allow a state to order a cleanup and recover the costs from the polluter.

Grevatt said that possibility will be weighed in the EPA’s national PFAS management plan that will be completed by year-end 2018. However, he also cautioned that any change would have to go through years of processes until an actual status change could be finalize…

One particular frustration that emerged for Michigan residents was Birnbaum’s testimony about dermal exposure and inhalation, and recent studies that suggest risk.

‘The state of Michigan has denied this route of exposure repeatedly,’ said Wusterbarth. ‘… It’s just unacceptable that our state officials are misleading us.’

On a broader basis, testimony from community health advocates attempted to underscore that federal guidance is critical for Americans to combat the pervasive PFAS chemicals and for officials to protect them.

‘We need a much more consistent approach,’ said Andrea Amico, who came from New Hampshire to testify. ‘We are seeing different states take different steps and measures. It’s leaving community members across the country wondering ‘why is Vermont lowering a standard to 20-ppt for five different PFAS, when the EPA is saying 70-ppt for two different PFAS?’ And we’re seeing New Jersey propose lower standards. We’re seeing Massachusetts and Connecticut take five different PFAS into consideration under 70-ppt.’ “