Groups push feds to release study about PFAS in drinking water

PARKERSBURG — More than 50 organizations from around the country are seeking the release of a federal study of perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

A letter to Secretary Alex Azar of the Department of Health and Human Services said the chemicals are linked to cancer, liver and thyroid damage, developmental impacts and the immune system.

“The government should be sharing information about these dangers, not hiding it,” the letter said.

National news outlets last month reported the federal study through the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was blocked because of the public relations challenges facing the Environmental Protection Agency over its release.

Perfluorinated compounds include C8 and its successor GenX used at the Washington Works to make Teflon. The settlement of the C8 lawsuit against DuPont created a science panel that studied the health data from 70,000 residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley and found a probable link between C8 and six diseases in humans.

A draft report from the registry said the risks from exposure to a subset of PFAS chemicals “pose a significantly greater threat to human health than previously estimated,” the letter released Thursday through the Environmental Working Group said. Safe exposure levels to PFAS chemicals are 10 times lower than the EPA’s non-enforceable guidelines, the group said.

“In the absence of meaningful action from the Environmental Protection Agency, states have taken the lead to protect us from PFAS chemicals. The (study) can provide vital intelligence to states seeking to clean up PFAS-contaminated drinking water that threatens millions of Americans,” the letter said. “We call on you to release the ATSDR report immediately so Americans know what’s in the water we drink, and states, public health officials and local water utilities are armed with the best-available science on these dangerous chemicals.”

Among the groups signing onto the letter were the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Clean and Healthy New York, Environmental Defense Fund, GreenLatinos, North Carolina State University, Texas Campaign for the Environment, VoteVets and Women’s Voices for the Earth.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Thursday said it develops Toxicological Profiles in two stages, first producing a draft profile that is announced in the Federal Register for a public comment period, generally in 30-90 days, then after the comment period considers all comments, revises the documents and then finalizes the profile.

The agency said it is preparing to release the draft profile again for public comment and will include provisional minimal risk levels for perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorononanoic acid and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid.

A release date has not been determined for the next public comment period, “but additional comments received on this draft will be incorporated into the final PFAS Toxicological Profile,” the agency said.

A risk level is an estimate of the amount of a chemical a person can eat, drink, or breathe each day without a detectable risk to health, the agency said. The risk levels are developed for health effects other than cancer and are intended as a screening tool to help public health professionals decide where to look more closely at potential health effects from the environment, the agency said.

“However, an MRL is not a regulatory standard,” the agency said. “ATSDR is a non-regulatory federal public health agency, therefore states can set their own standards for hazardous chemicals.”

Creation of the PFAS Toxicological Profile has been a collaboration that included scientific experts at the EPA, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, the agency said.

“The body of knowledge about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances is emerging quickly,” the agency said. “As a result, this document has been through the normal review process, leading to a number of revisions, resulting in multiple rounds of peer review and public comment.”