Read the full article by Sharon Lerner (The Intercept)
“GOVERNMENT SCIENTISTS SUSPECTED that the factory was releasing a dangerous PFAS chemical, and they had good reason to think so. The company operating it had knowingly released another PFAS chemical from this site before — and the first toxic industrial compound, which persists indefinitely in nature, had contaminated local drinking water and accumulated in the bodies of the people who drank it. The company phased out that first problem chemical as part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and began using another in its place.
The challenge was to identify the new compound. Because the company didn’t reveal the chemistry of the replacement — in fact had kept its details purposefully obscured on the grounds that it was confidential business information — the scientists had to resort to expensive, painstaking detective work to figure out what chemical the company was now using and whether they were releasing it into the environment.
By collecting samples near the factory, then analyzing and reverse engineering the molecules in them, the scientists were able to deduce that the company had replaced one compound from the family of manmade, industrial chemicals with another. Based on complex mapping, they showed that the new compound, like the old one, was spreading far beyond the factory and was contaminating the area even as the scientists were doing their taxpayer-funded sleuthing.
If you feel like you have read this story before, it may be because this precise series of events led to the 2015 discovery that DuPont had replaced its toxic and environmentally persistent chemical PFOA with GenX, which came to light only after EPA scientists spent years sampling the water of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina near what was then a DuPont factory, analyzing the samples, and reverse engineering the chemicals they found downstream from the factory.
This time, after yet another game of scientific cat-and-mouse, researchers from the EPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have discovered another instance in which a company has released a potentially dangerous little-known PFAS replacement compound. According to an article being published tomorrow in Science, eight variations of a recently identified group of PFAS compounds were found in soil in New Jersey, with their concentrations decreasing along with their distancefrom a Solvay plant in West Deptford, New Jersey, that makes fluorochemicals. According to the article, the pattern ‘is consistent with Solvay being the source of these compounds.’ Perhaps most disturbing, the chemicals apparently travel with the wind and were found throughout the state. The smallest of the molecules, which is thought to be most easily transported, was detected in a soil sample from Merrimack, New Hampshire — some 280 miles away…”