Read the full article by Mathew Santoni

“A Pennsylvania environmental group is petitioning the state to set a limit for how much of a disused but long-lived chemical once used in fighting fires is safe for drinking water, citing contamination that lingers around airports and military bases while state and federal officials have postponed action.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a petition with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Thursday asking that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection set a maximum contaminant level for the category of polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and the more specific perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which are compounds containing fluorine that were used in non-stick coatings, stain-proofing and firefighting foam since the 1950s.

And although the Riverkeeper Network said scientific evidence indicated that the maximum ‘safe’ level of PFAS or PFOA in drinking water is between 1 and 6 parts per trillion, the group said neither the state nor the federal government have taken action to set maximum amounts that would require a well to be closed, tested or cleaned up.

‘DEP has engaged in indefensible foot dragging, just like the federal government, when it comes to protecting our communities from the dangers of PFOA in their drinking water and environment,’ said Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper, in a statement announcing Thursday’s filing. ‘There is clear and sufficient scientific evidence of terrible harms to residents, including young children, as the result of PFOA contamination.’

The petition asks the Commonwealth Court to compel the DEP and its Environmental Quality Board to evaluate maximum contaminant levels, release a long-promised report on the issue and set the maximum contaminant levels under state law.

Setting a maximum contaminant level would create a threshold for contamination that would trigger additional monitoring, cleanup and public notice when it is exceeded, and allows the state to go after the parties responsible for the pollution.

PFAS and PFOA had been phased out of manufacture in the U.S., but have been found in groundwater throughout Pennsylvania — especially close to airports and military bases — and can have harmful effects even in small amounts, the petition says. Sites around the state, including a former fire training site at Penn State, Pittsburgh International Airport, and current and former military bases in Warminster, Warrington and Horsham townships were under investigation for contamination by the DEP.

Studies have linked the chemicals to cancer, thyroid disease and other health issues, especially in infants, children and people with weakened immune systems, the petition said. There are no known ways to flush the chemicals from a person’s body, and it has a half-life of approximately four years, the suit said.

The EPA added PFOA to the unregulated chemicals certain water providers should test for in 2012, and established a ‘health advisory level’ of 70 parts per trillion, the petition says. Though the DEP was aware of the contamination and had been approached by the Riverkeeper Network about the issue in 2017, it still has not yet established its own threshold for action, the lawsuit says. The group had sought a maximum level between 1 to 6 parts per trillion.

‘The lack of a binding and appropriately low Pennsylvania MCL means that homeowners on well water and other drinking water system operators will have difficulty in their efforts to recover the costs of adopting necessary treatment and cleanup from responsible polluters,’ the petition says. ‘Despite the wealth of scientific evidence of the need for regulation and significant public outcry, the federal government has been unwilling to establish standards for PFAS, in part because of numerous lawsuits around the country against the Federal Department of Defense, who used the firefighting foam for decades.’

After accepting the Riverkeeper Network’s petition for the limit in August 2017, the Environmental Quality Board set a deadline of June 2018 for the DEP to issue a report in response. But Thursday’s lawsuit said the DEP didn’t respond, and was still working to hire toxicologists to evaluate the issue as of late April 2019.

‘DEP’s lengthy delay in establishing a protective MCL for the Commonwealth and even filing the requisite report on DRN’s petition is a derogation of the department’s mandatory duty to assure the provision of safe drinking water to the public by establishing drinking water standards,’ the suit says. ‘DEP had sufficient information to establish a state-wide MCL for PFOAs to protect the public water supply.’

The department was obligated to do something under the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act and the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state’s constitution, the suit said.

A spokesperson for the DEP said that establishing state regulations like maximum contaminant levels can take two years under Pennsylvania rule-making procedures, but the process was underway. The department was establishing a sampling plan that will begin later this month, purchasing lab equipment, hiring people, and developing cleanup standards and ways to completely eliminate the chemicals from use, said DEP Press Secretary Elizabeth Rementer…”