Read the full article by Emma Cotton (VTDigger)

“Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory, warning that extremely low levels of certain types of PFAS can be dangerous to human health. 

The chemical class, commonly found in consumer products, has been discovered in dozens of public and private drinking water supplies in Vermont.

‘The updated advisory levels, which are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure, indicate that some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero and below EPA’s ability to detect at this time,’ the advisory said. 

Though Vermont’s drinking water standard for PFAS is stricter than those in many other states, it allows higher levels of PFAS in water supplies than what the EPA now considers safe. 

Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, said the state is reviewing the EPA’s advisory and how best to align the state’s response with the new guidance. 

‘We take this information incredibly seriously and are committed to moving quickly and thoughtfully’ to protect the public from exposure, Moore said. 

While the latest health advisory does not set regulatory limits for drinking water, Moore expects the EPA to release federal drinking water standards before the end of the year. The state’s standards will either need to meet or be stricter than those standards. 

Vermont’s legal limit for a combined five PFAS chemicals is 20 parts per trillion, and a previous EPA health advisory recommended keeping combined levels of PFOA and PFOS to less than 70 parts per trillion. 

The EPA’s new ‘interim’ health advisory for PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is much smaller at 0.004 parts per trillion. For PFOS, or perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, the advisory level has been updated to 0.02 parts per trillion.

The agency also issued two advisories for chemicals that have been considered replacements for PFOA and PFOS — GenX chemicals (10 parts per trillion) and PFBS (2,000 parts per trillion). 

Federal and state officials have long known that PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, are linked to harmful health impacts such as thyroid problems, infertility, and some types of cancer. PFAS, which are often called ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t naturally break down, are commonly found in stain resistant and water repellant consumer products, food packaging and even in food itself.

‘Essentially everywhere’

Vermont’s highest profile case of PFAS contamination played out in Bennington starting in 2016, when state officials discovered PFOA contamination in a 26-square mile area, impacting about 8,000 residents. A now-shuttered Teflon plant had emitted the chemical into the air from its smokestacks. Many residents nearby have high levels of PFOA in their blood, and some have developed cancers and have even died, though it’s impossible to conclusively link their illnesses to the contamination.

The case spurred sampling efforts by the state, which started in 2016 and expanded in 2019 following the passage of state legislation, said Ben Montross, drinking water program manager for Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation. 

While no other Vermont town has seen contamination like the Bennington case, high levels of the chemicals have shown up in water bodies, landfills and drinking water sources around the state, sometimes for unknown reasons.”…