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.


PFOA and PFOS: In-Depth Look at Chemicals Creating Major Concerns

In the past few years, contamination of drinking water supplies has been discovered in several small towns in northeastern upstate New York as well as in a nearby community in North Bennington, Vermont.

Thereafter, similar contamination was discovered near a plant in New Hampshire, on Cape Cod and near Newburgh, New York.  The chemical involved in all three drinking water supplies is perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA). This chemical, or a closely related one known as PFOS, has turned up in the drinking water of multiple other localities.

What makes this discovery striking is that this contamination was discovered not through routine governmental required testing, but through the vigilance and diligence of concerned citizens.

In the case of North Bennington, the state of Vermont quickly became actively involved. While in New York, the state government was slow to react and when it did, performed rather unevenly, causing residents to consume contaminated water for many months after the contamination was discovered.

Faraci Lange is handling multiple cases in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, the two upstate New York towns where the contamination was discovered, and where efforts are now underway to deal with the problem.

 

What is PFOA?

PFOA is a man-made chemical not found in nature. It is an eight carbon chain with each but the last carbon atom bonded to fluorine atoms.  The last carbon atom is bonded to an oxygen atom and an OH group, making it an acid. However, the acid form of this molecule is not typically how it is used in manufacturing.

Ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO), which is the initial form of the acid, is used as a surfactant in the production of PTFE coated materials including Teflon® cooking surfaces and various waterproof and stain-proof fabrics used for carpeting, upholstery, clothing, tapes and various other uses.

As a surfactant, APFO is added to PTFE dispersions to help the chemical mixture spread evenly on whatever surface it is being applied. The object is then heated causing the PTFE to adhere to the surface and the APFO to vaporize and discharge into the air.

APFO was invented, manufactured and sold by the 3M Corporation until approximately 2001.  3M became concerned about the health hazards of APFO and decided to stop manufacturing the chemical. Thereafter, DuPont, which has been one of the largest customers of 3M in purchasing the chemical to make its Teflon® products, began to manufacture the chemical for its own use and for sale to other manufactures of PTFE resins.

In 2006, due to human health concerns, the United States Environmental Protection Agency initiated the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program. Eight major companies committed to reduce facility emissions and product contents of PFOA and related chemicals (including PFOS) on a global basis by 95% no later than 2010 and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content of these chemicals by 2015. To a large extent this goal was accomplished, but the chemicals substituted in their places are very similar man-made multiple carbon chain molecules with untested and unknown health effects.

 

How does PFOA get into drinking water?

When the vaporized APFO cools after being exhausted out of the stacks of the manufacturing facility, it forms particulate matter that is carried by the air until it settles to the ground or is washed out of the air by precipitation. Once it reaches the soil, it loses the NHgrouping and converts to the acid form.

PFOA then readily dissolves into water and washes down into the groundwater.  It also dissolves into surface waters out of the air and the remnants of the original dispersion containing APFO are frequently discharged in liquid form by these same manufacturing facilities into both ground and surface waters near the facilities.

 

What are the health hazards of PFOA?

PFOA and a related chemical PFOS, which is another eight carbon manmade molecule used in foam fire retardants, are particularly troublesome because they are both highly resistant to breakdown in the environment. Once they convert to the acid form, there is nothing in nature that breaks them down, and they will persist for decades or centuries.

Equally problematic is their persistence once they are inhaled, ingested or absorbed into the human body.  Studies have shown it takes two to seven years for the body to rid itself of half of the PFOA contained in blood serum. Thus, where there is long-term exposure and a buildup of these chemicals in the bloodstream, it can take a lifetime to reduce the levels.

Unfortunately, due to the persistence and ubiquity of these chemicals, even though they are not found in nature, they are found in all of us at low levels, usually determined to be about 2 parts per billion. People who consume water contaminated with PFOA, like the residents of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, can have levels hundreds of times above those background levels.

Studies of workers exposed to PFOA have shown multiple possible negative health effects for years. Both 3M and DuPont did internal unpublished worker studies which suggested multiple different adverse health effects, forming the basis of 3M stopping its production of the chemical. However, the most comprehensive study of PFOA health effects resulted from the 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought against DuPont for contaminating the drinking water supply of approximately 70,000 people living in communities along the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. DuPont’s Washington Works plant located in Parkersburg, WV released PFOA, which was referred to as C8, into the air and into the Ohio River causing this contamination.

A lawsuit brought on behalf of citizens in the affected communities resulted in a massive study of the health effects of this chemical funded by DuPont as a condition of the settlement. Almost 70,000 people participated by completing surveys of their health histories and being tested for PFOA in their bloodstreams. Pursuant to the settlement, the C8 Science Panel was selected by attorneys for DuPont and the plaintiffs and consisted of three nationally recognized epidemiologists. They were tasked with reviewing the data generated from the study and determining whether there were any illnesses in this population that were likely related to the PFOA exposures.

The panel concluded that PFOA created an elevated risk of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, elevated liver enzymes, elevated uric acid levels, high cholesterol and pregnancy induced hypertension, and that in virtually all cases, the risk increased with level of exposure, which is referred to as a dose-response. Follow up studies found evidence of associations to other diseases including ovarian cancer.

 

Federal and State Regulation of PFOA

PFOA and PFOS are among thousands of man-made chemicals that were unregulated by either the state or federal governments until recently.

In 2009, the EPA identified PFOA as an emerging contaminant of concern and issued a provisional health advisory stating that short term (weeks to months) exposure to PFOA-contaminated water at a concentration of 400 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects. The EPA also advised at that time that long-term exposure to PFOS-contaminated water at a concentration of 200 parts per trillion (ppt) can cause human health effects.

Following EPA’s action in 2009, several states including Minnesota, Maine and New Jersey set drinking water limits for PFOA below EPA’s short term exposure level of 400 ppt. By 2016, EPA issued a health advisory warning that drinking water should not contain more than 70 ppt. Other states, including Vermont, set even lower limits, with Vermont setting a limit of 20 ppt. Leading scientists in the field have concluded that even these limits are too high and the standard should be set at 1 ppt.

Levels discovered in Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh were as high as 600 to several thousand parts per trillion. Water filtration systems have been installed on the public water supply after residents went months only drinking bottled water. Individual point of entry treatment systems (POET) were installed on hundreds of private wells in the area. A long-term source of clean drinking water is being sought for both communities, but this will not be an easy task.

 

Civil Lawsuits against Polluters

Class action lawsuits are now underway in state and federal courts on behalf of the citizens of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, seeking recoveries from the companies responsible for the contamination.

These suits are claiming property devaluation damages and are also seeking to establish a medical surveillance program to screen the exposed population for the diseases associated with PFOA exposure to promote early diagnosis and treatment.

Faraci Lange is lead counsel in those cases. In addition, several cases have been filed by residents exposed to PFOA who have been diagnosed with illnesses associated with PFOA exposure, and more will be filed in the coming months.

 

Stephen G. Schwarz, Managing Partner of Faraci Lange, is representing plaintiffs in the Hoosick Falls water contamination class action as Co-Lead Counsel with Hadley Matarazzo.

 

 


New York Considers Tougher Water Quality Standards

The twelve-member Drinking Water Quality Council held its first meeting today to consider establishing maximum contaminant levels for toxic chemicals in New York State water.

Some say that this rule-making is necessary because of a lack of continuity in the system of federal water quality regulation.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has requested that the council consider setting the maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as well as perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and 1,4-Dioxane.

Brad Hutton, the deputy commissioner of public health for the New York State Department of Health, stated that the council has been given the responsibility on advising the DOH commissioner on what unregulated contaminants should be tested throughout the state.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors several unregulated contaminants every five years, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s guidelines. This leaves gaps in the federal system’s approach of ensuring water quality.

“They have been moving too slow of a pace,” stated Hutton, stressing the state’s need of establishing its own maximum contaminant levels.

Read the full article here.


EPA Adds Saint-Gobain Site to Federal Superfund Clean-Up List

Hoosick Falls EPAThe United States Environmental Protection Agency announced in a news release this week that it has added the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site in the Village of Hoosick Falls to the Federal Superfund National Priorities List, which includes the nation’s most hazardous waste sites.

The agency’s decision will allow federal resources to be used to clean areas of Hoosick Falls that have been contaminated with PFOA and ensure that the health of village residents is protected.

The EPA’s designation will also allow the federal government to seek reimbursement from the companies that are responsible for the village’s contamination.

New York State Senator Charles Schumer stated, “I am glad that EPA has heeded our call to add this site to the Superfund list because it gives the EPA leverage to make the polluters pay and to set a protocol for investigation and clean-up.”

Since PFOA contamination was discovered in Hoosick Falls, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health, along with the EPA, have taken several steps to address the issue:

  • In January 2016, the NYSDEC added the Saint-Gobain site to New York State’s Superfund list and requested that the EPA include the site on EPA’s federal Superfund list.
  • In April and May 2016, the EPA installed monitoring wells to sample groundwater at and around the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility (McCaffrey Street facility) and sampled the Village water supply wells. The EPA also collected soil samples from the McCaffrey Street facility, Village ballfields and recreational areas.
  • In June 2016, the NYSDEC entered into a legal agreement with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation and Honeywell International Inc. and initiated a study of the nature and extent of contamination at the site.
  • In September 2016, the EPA proposed adding the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site to the federal Superfund list.

Faraci Lange attorneys, Stephen Schwarz and Hadley Matarazzo, are representing residents of Hoosick Falls in a lawsuit against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International for the PFOA contamination their manufacturing plants caused.

“To the extent that it makes more resources available to the community to address the problem, we’re happy to see that happen, Hadley stated to the New York Law Journal.


Hoosick Falls Tables Vote on $1.04M Settlement Offer

Last week, the Hoosick Falls Village Board postponed its vote on the proposed settlement of $1.04 million offered by Saint-Gobain and Honeywell over the PFOA contamination of the village’s water supply.

Village officials approved the motion to table with a vote of 6-1, with Mayor David Borge opposing it due to his argument that the town is facing “real financial issues” without the settlement money.

After the vote, Mayor Borge stated that, “Someone is going to give us a check for $1 million, that is not going away…There are 1,900 people in this community that pay taxes. They were not all here tonight…We have a responsibility to look out for everyone in the village, both present and in the future, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Although the settlement would cover Hoosick Falls’ expenses relating to the contamination, it would prevent the village from bringing any future claims against Saint-Gobain and Honeywell.

Judith Enck, a Hoosick Falls community member and former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, opposed the settlement offer stating, “This is a really good deal for St. Gobain and a really good deal for Honeywell, but this not the quality document you should be signing on behalf of the residents of Hoosick Falls.”

Read the full story here.


EPA Answers Questions Regarding Hoosick Falls Superfund Status

hoosick falls superfund

LUCAS WILLARD / WAMC

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Mugdan spoke to Hoosick Falls residents for two hours last week, answering questions and explaining the Federal Superfund program as the agency considers the village for Superfund status.

Mugdan, Director of the EPA Region 2’s Emergency and Remedial Response Division, stated how the factory linked to the area’s PFOA contamination is being considered for the Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

PFOA is used to make Teflon, which was used at the village’s Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics factory and is considered the source of the contamination.

If placed on the Superfund list, Hoosick Falls would be a part of 1,700 high-priority cleanups.

In January, New York State gave Superfund status to Saint-Gobain’s McCaffrey Street factory. According to Assistant Division Director for the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Environmental Remediation, Michael Ryan, the state would have additional options to take action against Saint-Gobain if the federal government also granted Superfund status.

“So right now we’re working cooperatively with the potentially responsible parties towards the investigation and cleanup. Should there be any hesitation on their part, if the site is listed on the NPL, EPA will be there with their resources, their legal resources to help back us up,” said Ryan.

A year since the contamination was widely announced to the public and more than two years since elevated PFOA levels were first detected, village Mayor David Borge said many unanswered questions were answered by Walter Mugdan last week.

A 60-day comment period on the proposal to add Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to the Superfund National Priorities List closes November 8th.

Read more here.


EPA Proposes Adding Saint-Gobain Site in Hoosick to Federal Superfund List

The EPA announced its proposal today to add the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. to its Superfund National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

The Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility is located at 14 McCaffrey Street and its groundwater has been contaminated with Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Trichloroethylene. The village’s public water supply has also been found to be contaminated with PFOA.

“By placing this site on the federal Superfund list, the EPA will continue to work hard to address the contamination at the source, and hold the polluters accountable for the full cost of cleanup,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator.

  • In January 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation added the Saint-Gobain site to the state’s Superfund list and nominated the site for inclusion in the federal Superfund list.
  • In April 2016, the EPA installed groundwater monitoring wells near the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility.
  • In early May 2016, the EPA conducted groundwater sampling at and around the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility.
  • In mid-May, the EPA conducted drinking water sampling at drinking water wells used by the Village of Hoosick Falls.
  • After testing in Hoosick Falls, the EPA determined that inclusion in the federal Superfund program was an effective course of action to address the contamination.

After this proposal of inclusion to the National Priorities List, a 60-day comment period will begin in which the EPA will accept public comments until November 10th.

Following the comment period, designation to the National Priorities List will make the site eligible for funds to conduct long-term cleanup.

The Superfund program allows the EPA to search for the polluters legally responsible for contaminating a site and holds them accountable for cleanup costs, rather than pushing costs onto taxpayers.

Read the EPA’s complete news release here.


Hoosick Falls Water Contamination Hearings Begin

A State Senate committee held a daylong hearing in Hoosick Falls this week to address the PFOA water contamination issue that has been affecting residents for months.

Michael Hickey, a Hoosick Falls lifelong resident who was one of the first to bring attention to the town’s contaminated water, spoke at the hearing about how he discovered a connection between the death of his father from kidney cancer and the toxic chemical Teflon.

Hoosick Falls water contamination

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

“All I typed in was Teflon and cancer, because that’s what was in the factory that was in Hoosick Falls where my father worked,” stated Hickey at the Tuesday hearing.

Although it only took Hickey “about five minutes,” it took government officials much longer to notice the contamination, or to take action.

Only in recent months has the gravity of this issue come to light as researchers found that the town’s public water supply was tainted with high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is used in several products as well as in the production of Teflon.

State officials have identified the source of the contamination as the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant.

Several nearby towns in New York as well as in Vermont have also reported high levels of PFOA since then.

Dr. Marcus Martinez, a local physician, had also testified alongside Hickey stating he had long noted what he believed to be unusually high rates of cancer in the village. He said that he and Hickey had brought their concerns, as well as test results, to the attention of village and state officials in 2014, but had been disappointed by a lack of action.

“I do believe our citizens were advised incorrectly to consume water that was unsafe for at least for 12 months,” Dr. Martinez said.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


More Health Harms from PFOA Found

New studies have came out recently that show more harmful effects of PFOA exposure on mothers and their children.

Four studies that have been conducted by Harvard researchers and other leading journals to look into highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA.

“These chemicals have some of the strongest bonds in the periodic table, and they basically never break down, so they stay around for millions of years,” said Arlene Blum from the University of California, Berkeley-based Green Science Policy Institute.

Several kinds of cancer, high cholesterol and obesity are some of the harmful health effects associated with PFOA exposure.

It was also found that young children who are exposed to the chemical PFOA have a reduced immune response to vaccinations. Furthermore, as children grow older, they may experience other problems such as more colds and upset stomachs.

Another study discovered that women who had high levels of PFOA in their blood were not able to breastfeed as long as other women.

Learn more here.

Attorneys Stephen Schwarz and Hadley Matarazzo at Faraci Lange, as well as Robin Greenwald at Weitz & Luxenberg, represent the plaintiffs as co-lead counsel in the Hoosick Falls lawsuit.

Senate to Hold PFOA Water Contamination Hearing in Hoosick Falls

The State Senate will be holding a hearing regarding the PFOA water contamination in Hoosick Falls on August 30th.

The hearing will be held at Hoosick Falls High School by the Senate Health and Environmental Conservation committees chaired by Senators Kemp Hannon and Tom O’Mara.

Experts from various agencies including the EPA, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Department of Health will be present at the hearing.

These experts will shed light on the factors that may have caused the slow response to PFOA contamination in Hoosick Falls’ water supply, such as the possibility of overlapping jurisdictions, lack of communication, or perhaps sheer negligence.

The second part of the hearing will allow the Senators to hear directly prom the public. People who would like to speak can sign up in advance and testify during the afternoon. Committees will allow Hoosick Falls residents to testify on a first-come first-serve basis after 5 PM.

Learn more here.