Editorial on EPA’s Decision of No PFOA Limits

The Times Union published the following editorial discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s reported decision not to set limits on PFOA in drinking water.

What adjective best describes the Environmental Protection Agency’s apparent decision to set no limits on the chemicals that contaminated water supplies in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh?

 

We nominate “sickening,” which is literal, given that perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and related chemicals are linked to diseases including cancer, thyroid disease, hypertension and weakened childhood immunity.

 

Sadly, though, the refusal to set PFOA limits for drinking water isn’t surprising. Again and again, President Donald Trump’s EPA has chosen not to protect Americans’ health and safety if doing so might inconvenience industry.

 

The consequences of such inaction are real and potentially devastating, as residents of Hoosick Falls know. In 2015, the Rensselaer County community was found to have high PFOA levels in its drinking water; similar contamination was later discovered in nearby Petersburgh.

 

The government response was distressingly lax. At least 14 months passed before Hoosick Falls residents were warned to stop drinking from the village’s contaminated wells. Residents remain skeptical that officials can be trusted on the issue. So the EPA needs to prove it is principled. Under Mr. Trump, it surely is not.

 

Anyone who doubts that should remember that the administration tried to block a federal report concluding that PFOAs are dangerous even at very low concentrations. A presidential aide warned the report would be “a public relations nightmare.”

 

For the chemical industry, maybe so. For citizens, though, truth matters more than corporate PR.

 

The refusal to set PFOA limits means the chemical will stay unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning utilities won’t have to face federal requirements to test and remove the chemicals from public water supplies.

 

Upon reflection, maybe a better adjective would be “unconscionable.”

 

Thankfully, New York is preparing to follow the recommendations of the Drinking Water Quality Council, a panel formed in response to the Hoosick Falls crisis, and limit PFOA in the water supply to a maximum of 10 parts per trillion. Some environmental advocates say that’s still too lax, but at least it is better protection than other Americans are going to get.

 

If there’s good news here, it’s in Congress, where both Republicans and Democrats, including Rep. Antonio Delgado, the Democrat who represents Hoosick Falls, are demanding answers. Lawmakers should press the EPA to reverse its decision, and the Senate must not confirm acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler’s appointment until it does. His deep ties to the coal industry already made him an awful choice to lead the agency, and the PFOA decision does nothing to make anyone think otherwise.

 

What adjective would describe a government that fails to assure that Americans’ tap water is safe?

 

Heartless, maybe. Or disgraceful.

Click here to read the article on Timesunion.com.


Reports Claim EPA Refuses to Limit Water Contaminants

It was reported earlier this week that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to establish limits for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, causing outrage among advocates for clean water in Upstate New York.

Toxic chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS have contaminated the drinking water in Hoosick Falls and Petersbugh in the Rensselaer County of New York.

In a letter written to Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the EPA, Rep. Antonio Delgado stated, “many of my constituents have lost loved ones or suffer themselves from the adverse effects of PFAS water contamination.”

“Americans have a right to know how much, if any, of this chemical is in their drinking water,” Delgado said. “They have a right to be informed if the problem is getting worse, and they should be able to trust that federal regulators will work to ensure that their communities are safe.”

The EPA has been supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce regulation of chemicals and other environmental hazards in favor of industries.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., met with Wheeler on Wednesday to discuss the issue, but was not satisfied with the answers that were provided. Gillibrand claims that she will be voting against Wheeler’s confirmation as EPA administrator.

“If the administration truly refuses to act, Congress will need to step in to deliver the safe drinking water standards the American people need and deserve,” U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said in a statement.

The EPA had claimed it would issue a management plan for PFOA and PFOS by Fall of 2018, but has yet to do so. The possibility of it not including a cap on the hazardous chemicals has further caused an issue for environmental advocates and residents of the affected communities.

The N.Y. Water Project, formed by Hoosick Fall Residents, issued a statement on the matter as well.

“When the EPA came to Hoosick Falls, we were told again and again that tackling PFOA was a top priority. But it turns out this was all an act. By refusing to set a limit on PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, Trump’s EPA has hung human health out to dry.”

Click here to read more.


Nation’s Toughest Standards Proposed by NYS Drinking Water Quality Council

New York State may now have the toughest standards in the nation for drinking water after the state’s Drinking Water Quality Council recommended maximum contaminant levels for toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other health risks.

The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council met on Tuesday to discuss maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-Dioxane, which were found to have contaminated the drinking water in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and other communities.

The council voted to recommend a MCL of 10 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS, as well as a MCL of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current health advisory is at 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS. A MCL of 7 parts per trillion was recommended by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in June.

Rob Hayes from the Environmental Advocates of New York group stated, “the science has been very clear that low maximum contaminant levels are necessary to protect our most vulnerable populations from the negative health impacts of these chemicals, especially pregnant women and children.”

This recommendation comes after tireless advocacy by residents who have been impacted by contamination in towns such as Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

“It has been more than three years since the water crisis in Hoosick Falls came to light. And the council made a promise to these residents that they were going to protect drinking water for all New Yorkers.”

Now that the council has established their MCL recommendations, the Commissioner of Health will consider the recommendations and, ultimately, will be voted on by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.

Click here to learn more.


Legislators Urge Department of Health to Impose Maximum Contaminant Levels

PFOA water contaminationNew York State legislators Ellen Jaffee and Liz Krueger have called on the Department of Health to impose the maximum allowable amounts of PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.

Separate letters were sent to Howard Zucker, the DOH’s Commissioner, by the three legislators asking for mandatory levels of 4 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS and 0.3 parts per billion for 1,4-dioxane.

Ellen Jaffee, a Rockland County Democrat, wrote that the Drinking Water Quality Council had failed to be, “the champion for clean water that New York needs.”

The Drinking Water Quality Council, which was created in September 2017 and consists of twelve members, was given the responsibility to make recommendations for maximum contamination levels for PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane in drinking water by the end of September, which they were unable to do.

“New Yorkers cannot wait any longer to have their drinking water protected from these dangerous chemicals,” wrote Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.

“To meet this important goal, DOH must take immediate action to establish MCLs for these chemicals,” she wrote. “Your leadership will be of critical importance to ensure that when New Yorkers turn on their taps, they can rest assured that their water is clean and safe to drink.”

Click here to read the letters written to the Department of Health.


New York State Drinking Water Quality Council Finally Meets

Hoosick Falls Water ContaminationThe New York State Drinking Water Quality Council met earlier this week after months of delay, where they heard the concerns of residents who have been affected by contaminated water.

The council has previously promised Capital Region residents that they would bring forth regulations by this month, which has also been delayed.

Dr. Howard Sucker, the Department of Health’s commissioner, announced at the start of the meeting that maximum contaminant levels for PFOA and PFOS would not be recommended during this meeting. This was a disappointment for many residents as they believed regulations would be introduced in October.

“Such a rapidly evolving field of science makes it challenging and complicated,” stated Deputy Commissioner of Public Health Brad Hutton who serves on the council.

According to Hutton, new information was presented at the meeting that will allow the council to make maximum contaminant level recommendations at another meeting in the next couple of months.

“[Hoosick Falls residents] want there to be a legacy so that the rest of New York is protected from the situation they were exposed to and I completely understand that. We’re working to put that in place,” claimed Sutton.

Click here to read the full story.


Victims of PFOA Contamination Deserve Medical Monitoring

David Bond, an associate director of Bennington College’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action, wrote the below article in the VTDigger to emphasize the importance of medical monitoring and health care funds for the victims of PFOA contamination.

Four years after PFOA was discovered in drinking water in Hoosick Falls and then in residential wells around Bennington, families exposed to the toxic chemical have valid and still unaddressed questions about the long-term health consequences they now face. This is unacceptable.

 

As a professor working to bring the scientific resources of a nearby college into the conversation on this environmental problem, I have seen the fallout of PFOA firsthand: home values dissolved in the stigma of contamination, pregnancy met with trembling uncertainty, and the strange normality of residents disclosing PFOA levels in their blood.

 

Although new water filtration systems, Superfund designations in New York, and public water line extensions in Vermont are minimizing PFOA contamination going forward, many residents now carry a lifetime of worry. With infuriating subtlety, PFOA has been linked to cancer and other illnesses that show up decades after exposure.

 

As impacted communities educate themselves about the toxicological profile of PFOA, they’ve found themselves at an impasse: The more they learn about the intricate risks of PFOA, the more they realize how inadequate the medical response has been.

 

In Hoosick Falls, much of this has to do with the tepid response of New York’s Department of Health. DOH delayed acknowledging this crisis long after the evidence demanded it, continued to withhold summaries of health information collected from residents, and at one point erroneously informed residents they could drink contaminated water without worry.

 

Last August, I helped launch a community health questionnaire. Supported by the project “Understanding PFOA” at Bennington College, this questionnaire aimed to give residents’ knowledge of their own health more prominence in ongoing discussions about PFOA. This questionnaire polled local residents of Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Bennington about local incidents of six illnesses linked to PFOA: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and diagnosed high cholesterol.

 

This questionnaire generated 443 responses that provided health information about individuals and members of their family. After removing duplicates and verbally confirming many of the responses, the questionnaire reported 31 instances of kidney cancer, 11 instances of testicular cancer, and over 230 instances of thyroid disease in Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Bennington.

 

Hoosick Falls, New York (pop. 3,420) fielded the most participants in this questionnaire, with 373 residents responding. Within Hoosick Falls, the questionnaire reported 17 cases of kidney cancer, nine cases of testicular cancer, and 135 cases of thyroid disease. These numbers differ significantly from previous reports.

 

In May 2017, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) conducted a Cancer Incidence Investigation related to PFOA in Hoosick Falls. Relying on archival data in the NYS Cancer Registry, the NYS DOH survey reported 12 cases of kidney cancer and zero cases of testicular cancer in Hoosick Falls between 1995 and 2014. The 17 cases of kidney cancer and nine cases of testicular cancer reported in Hoosick Falls by this community questionnaire rise above NYS DOH’s baseline for concern and warrant renewed attention now.

 

In Vermont, our questionnaire reported cases of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension among Bennington residents exposed to PFOA. Like in New York, these cases are concerning and warrant renewed attention now.

 

The Vermont Department of Health should commission a serious study of the health impact of PFOA in Bennington, which needs to focus on health trends among the population exposed to PFOA. Data in the cancer registry is lumped together by zip code or census tract, both of which are a poor proxy for exposure.

 

Over the past year, I’ve met several local residents diagnosed with PFOA-associated cancers struggling to keep up with mounting medical bills. Juggling chemotherapy and visits to specialized clinics on top of family and work, these individuals are now working second jobs and relying on GoFundMe campaigns to get the health care they need. This is not right. Victims of toxic pollution should never have to pay for their own medical treatment.

 

Polluters, not taxpayers, must be required to fund the new health care needs PFOA has introduced into our communities, including medical monitoring and a designated health care fund. Medical monitoring provides resources to local health care providers to be on the lookout for early indications of illnesses associated with PFOA, and a designated health fund provides comprehensive treatment options should any resident be diagnosed with one of those illnesses.

 

In Vermont, medical monitoring was thwarted by Gov. Phil Scott last May. After passing the House and the Senate, S.197 – a popular bill that provided polluter-funded medical monitoring to Vermont communities impacted by toxic pollution – was vetoed by Gov. Scott. In a statement, Gov. Scott described PFOA as a “public health crisis” before explaining how settlements with Saint-Gobain that provide clean drinking water to residents were sufficient resolutions to PFOA contamination. Calling PFOA a “public health crisis” just before dismissing the legitimate health concerns of residents adds insult to injury. Any settlement with Saint-Gobain that does not address the health concerns of residents is an incomplete settlement.

 

It’s time for the governor’s office to recognize the truth that residents of Bennington have been living for the past few years: PFOA is a serious health hazard. Medical monitoring and a health care fund for these communities is a long overdue step towards making our communities whole again.

Click here to read the full article.


New Study Finds PFOA Contamination May Have Spread Through Air

PFOA contaminationIn a recent study, a team of faculty and student researchers at Bennington College discovered elevated levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in soil samples stretching a 120 square mile area east of the ChemFab plant in North Bennington, Vermont.

ChemFab was previously owned by Saint Gobain, the manufacturing company accountable for contaminating the groundwater in Hoosick Falls.

A consent order with Vermont had only identified around 12 square miles of contaminated land and Saint Gobain claimed that their PFOA emissions were limited to only the nearby neighborhoods.

The study brings to light the discovery of elevated PFOA levels in soil located downwind of the Saint Gobain facilities, including the Hoosick Falls plant.

“The pattern in soil seem fairly clear,” said David Bond, a Bennington College professor involved in the study. “They all point back to the Saint-Gobain plants in North Bennington and Hoosick Falls.”

“Our research suggests Saint-Gobain has been insisting on a microscopic view of a wide angle problem. When you zoom out, you begin to see just how extensive PFOA contamination may actually be,” Bond added.

Click here to read more.


PFOA Contamination Study Begins In Petersburgh Taconic Plant

More than two years after the Taconic Plastics plant in Petersburgh, New York first alerted the state of concerns about contamination around its Route 22 facility, the company is beginning an in-depth investigation into the extent of PFOA contamination in the area.

Taconic will commence with doing soil tests and installing groundwater wells in order to study the actual extent of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, contamination.

Following the discovery of PFOA contamination in the Village of Hoosick Falls’ water supply in 2016, Taconic approached the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Health Department regarding previous PFOA contamination at its Petersburgh facility.

Due to major concerns about the negative health effects this PFOA contamination might cause for residents in the years to come, Taconic signed a consent order with New York State requiring the installation of a filtration system on Petersburgh’s municipal water plant. Testing and filtration systems on private wells in the area were also mandated.

In addition, Taconic was required to investigate the scope of the contamination to see how much of the surrounding area had been affected, and to look into ways of remediation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced that a report detailing the investigation’s discoveries will be released in 2019.

The DEC stated in its announcement that, “the information collected during the site investigation may also support the conclusion that no action, or no further action, is needed to address site-related contamination.”

There is currently an ongoing class action lawsuit against Taconic that has been filed by Petersburgh residents.

Read the full article here.


Vermont Officials Denounce EPA Effort to Block PFOA/PFOS Health Study

EPAA recent report that the federal Environmental Protection Agency attempted to block the publication of a public health study on PFOA/PFOS contamination has elicited a strong reaction from Vermont officials.

The report, published by Politico, revealed that emails had been found in which a Trump administration aide warned that publishing the study would lead to a “public relations nightmare.”

The public health study in question would disclose that PFOA and PFOS become a serious risk to human health at a far lower level than the EPA has marked safe.

“I am outraged, but not surprised, that Scott Pruitt’s anti-science EPA is suppressing research that would shed light on the health threats posed by PFOA contamination of the water supply,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Welch recounted his interactions with Bennington residents who have been facing PFOA contamination.

“They have a right to see this information, which was gathered by federal employees and paid for with taxpayer funds. EPA should immediately make it available to the public and end its practice of choosing polluters over the public’s right to know,” stated Welch.

The public health has yet to be published.

Read the full story here.


Hoosick Falls Votes to Accept Reimbursement from Companies Responsible for PFOA Contamination

Hoosick Falls PFOA contaminationOn Tuesday night, the Hoosick Falls Village Board unanimously voted to accept a $330,250 reimbursement from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International for costs to run and maintain the filtration system put in place after the village’s water supply was contaminated with PFOA.

This resolution is not a settlement agreement and so it does not exempt the companies from any future costs and damages.

It’s a huge help to our immediate cash flow. But there are no strings attached. It does not release them from suing them in the future,” stated Hoosick Falls Mayor Robert Allen.

According to Village calculations, Hoosick Falls has spent $707,392.62 due to the chemical PFOA contaminating their water supply. Mayor Allen stresses that they will continue to fight for complete reimbursement from the companies deemed responsible for the contamination.

The filtration system has been in place since 2016 and was paid for by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell. Since then, the energy and labor costs to run and maintain the system have been incurred by the Village.

In a statement, Saint-Gobain’s director of communications Dina Pokedoff said, “Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell have been in continuous dialogue with this administration, as well as the previous administration, to provide reimbursements to the village for the costs it incurred regarding the treatment systems that ensure village residents have access to potable drinking water.”

This resolution has come one year after the Hoosick Falls Village Board voted to reject a $1 million partial settlement agreement with Saint-Gobain and Honeywell due to widespread community opposition.

Read the full story here.