Read the full article by Mike Ludwig (Truthout)
“Rep. Chris Pappas has a pollution double whammy in his New Hampshire congressional district. A plastics manufacturer contaminated public water wells with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in the town of Merrimack. Residents of the town learned in 2016 that they had been drinking water laced with tasteless, odorless toxic chemicals for two decades. In another part of the district, firefighting foam used at an Air Force installation contaminated the surrounding environment with PFAS.
New Hampshire regulators are currently investigating more than two dozen PFAS contamination sites across the state, and Pappas is not alone in Congress. PFAS are a broad group of chemicals that have been used for decades in a variety of consumer products and manufacturing processes for their nonstick, stain-repellent and waterproofing properties. These chemicals break down incredibly slowly in the environment, and researchers suspect that small amounts are detectable in every major source of drinking water in the United States.
Now, as the nation reels from a fresh public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, new research suggests that more than 2,500 industrial facilities located in virtually every congressional district could be discharging PFAS into the air and water in the absence of federal regulations. While the Trump administration has released a PFAS ‘action plan,’ the White House pushed back against legislation passed by House Democrats that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draw up tough PFAS regulations and force polluters to assist in cleanup efforts.
‘It’s amazing to me that there is no regulation of PFAS under the Clean Water Act right now in a way that can protect our communities from the really toxic impacts that PFAS poses to individuals’ health and well-being,’ Pappas told reporters during a Zoom conference on Thursday.
The two most notorious PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, were originally used in Dupont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard and are linked to health problems such as weakened childhood immunity, cancer, and kidney and thyroid disease. PFOS and PFOA have been phased out of use — although both persist in the environment. Independent research suggests that dozens of other PFAS chemicals developed to replace PFOS and PFOA may also have harmful impacts on the body, but with hundreds of PFAS on the market, it’s difficult for researchers to keep up.
Pappas’s district is home to two primary examples of the major sources of PFAS pollution nationwide: an industrial manufacturing plant and an Air Force installation where firefighting foam laced with PFAS was in use for years. Nationally, there are 2,500 industrial manufacturing and chemical facilities that could be releasing PFAS into the air and water, according to a new dataset and map released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) on Thursday. The group previously identified and mapped 678 military sites nationwide where PFAS is known or suspected to have been discharged into the environment.
Lawmakers Say Trump’s EPA Is Dragging Its Feet
Various PFAS chemicals are used by a variety of industries for manufacturing and to coat their products. Plastics manufacturers, carpetmakers, commercial printers and many others use PFAS chemicals, according to Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. Other major sources of pollution include 28 industrial chemical facilities nationwide that report manufacturing or using large amounts of PFAS.
One of the most notorious polluters is the Chemours chemical plant in North Carolina, which is currently under state orders to clean up PFAS pollution that contaminated groundwater and the Cape Fear River. Dupont and 3M, two former manufacturers of PFOS and PFOA that helped invent the PFAS class of chemicals, concealed evidence that the chemicals were hazardous from the public for decades.
Faber said researchers dug through EPA data sets and other public records to identify and map out potential PFAS polluters based on what types of products they use or produce, but he cautioned that each facility is only suspected of discharging PFAS pollution. Thanks to weak federal regulation, there is currently no way to confirm whether each facility is discharging PFAS, and how much. While some facilities are already confirmed sources of drinking water contamination, tap water near others has yet to be tested.
‘Unfortunately, even though the EPA has known for decades that PFAS is toxic and building up in our blood, EPA has so far failed to add PFAS to what’s known as the Toxic Release Inventory,’ Faber said, referring to the EPA’s system for tracking toxic industrial release.
Lawmakers only recently added 172 PFAS to the list of toxic chemicals that chemical plants and industrial manufactures are required to report to the EPA after discharging them into the environment, and Faber said that data on that pollution will not be available until next year. Every year, industrial facilities report discharging millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to the EPA, but environmentalists and lawmakers say President Trump’s EPA has dragged its feet in responding to PFAS.
Rep. Harley Rouda is a Democrat whose district includes parts of Orange County, California, where a local utility has invested $1 million in equipment to test for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. Rouda said the COVID-19 outbreak is not hampering this effort because the water utilities are considered ‘essential,’ but he does not expect any help from the Trump administration, which has taken a ‘systematic approach’ to unraveling the EPA’s obligations to protect the environment under federal law…”