Group: PFAS contamination far worse than was believed

PARKERSBURG — The number of Americans impacted by contamination from fluorinated chemicals is much worse than previously estimated, an environmental organization said on Wednesday.

The Environmental Working Group said its data shows the tap water supplies for about 110 million Americans have been impacted by the PFAS compounds. C8, once used to make Teflon at the Washington Works in Wood County and suspected of causing six diseases in people, and its successor GenX are in the family of fluorinated chemicals.

The number is nearly seven times greater than the previous estimate of 16 million, the Working Group said based on its analysis.

The Environmental Protection Agency has not “told Americans the true extent of the pollution, which is much worse than previously reported,” the Working Group said. The EPA Wednesday concluded the the National Leadership Summit on man-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals.

The difference in the numbers is because the EPA requires utilities to report PFAS pollution at levels higher than the lower concentrations labs are capable of finding, the Working Group said. More water systems would have shown contamination had the EPA required a lower, health-protective reporting level, the Working Group said.

“This is data that was paid for by the taxpayers, but the EPA didn’t bother to collect or release it, keeping millions of Americans in the dark about the dangerous chemicals in their drinking water,” said David Andrews, a Working Group senior scientist. “How is hiding the truth an example of ‘leadership,’ or making this a ‘national priority'”?

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the summit and last week at a Senate hearing when questioned by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said action was needed over PFAS contamination.

Pruitt said the nationwide conference was intended to initiate steps to evaluate the need for setting PFAS limits under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

However, Pruitt has a record reducing public health protections and “taking him at his word that he’ll swing into action on PFAS is like believing a 7-year-old who promises to clean up his room after dessert,” Andrews said.

The Working Group encouraged states to continue setting limits for PFAS and requiring contamination cleanup.

The organization wants the study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control to be released. The study recommends a safe level for PFAS chemicals in drinking water that is lower than the EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory level, the Working Group said.

Earlier this year, the EPA asked Chemours, which now operates the Washington Works, to sample 10 private wells and four public water systems in the area of the plant in West Virginia and Ohio for GenX contamination. The chemical was found in untreated water in nine of the wells in concentrations of from 16 parts per trillion to 81 ppt, but GenX was undetected in the water treated by the granulated activated carbon filters previously installed to remove C8, the agency said.

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