New science on PFAS chemicals should mobilize our senators
By Emily Donovan | The Fayetteville Observer | September 19, 2019
Read the full article by Emily Donovan (The Fayetteville Observer)
“…A peer-reviewed study, published this month in the prestigious Chemical Engineering Journal, found short-chain PFAS chemicals, like GenX, are more widely detected, more persistent, and more mobile than long-chain PFAS chemicals they were designed to replace–such as PFOA and PFOS. The study authors concluded short-chain PFAS–including GenX, which has been detected at high levels in the Cape Fear River, “may pose more risk” to people and the environment. This is profound news considering PFAS chemical makers, like Chemours, continue to claim GenX and other short-chain PFAS are safer replacements.
Experts have warned for years PFAS chemicals, like GenX, pose serious health risks, including harm to the reproductive and immune systems. Animal studies have shown serious health effects associated with various PFAS occurring in the thyroid, kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus, and especially in the liver, according to a study released last year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
PFAS are like no other chemicals on earth. They are completely man-made, never biodegrade, many bioaccumulate in our bodies, and the majority studied so far appear to disrupt the endocrine system — altering us at a cellular level.
Residents in the Wilmington area who were chronically exposed to large quantities of PFAS in their drinking water have higher rates of testicular and thyroid cancers. Wilmington residents who participated in last year’s GenX Exposure Study showed elevated levels of nine different PFAS in their blood — many of which were detected at 2x – 3x higher than the national average. Some of the compounds detected in the blood sampled are considered short-chain PFAS.
Additionally, short-chain PFAS are more difficult for water utilities to filter out. New Hanover and Brunswick county utilities are spending a combined $150 million in upgraded treatment processes to effectively remove a problem they did not create.
Sadly, drinking water contaminated with PFAS is just one exposure threat. Emerging research suggests 70 to 95% of PFAS exposure to the average American comes from sources other than water. In light of this emerging reality, contaminated communities — like those in southeastern North Carolina simply cannot afford one more drop of any PFAS — short or long chain, in their drinking water, food supply, or consumer products.
Nevertheless, polluters can still legally discharge GenX and other short-chain PFAS – without reporting any releases to the EPA – and GenX and other PFAS chemicals continue to be used in everything from firefighting foam to food packaging. Millions of North Carolina residents may be consuming poisonous amounts of PFAS in their drinking water and food supply without their consent. We deserve a fighting chance to protect ourselves and our families from continued PFAS poisoning…
The House version of a must-pass defense spending bill includes provisions to limit PFAS discharges into drinking water supplies and to quickly end the military’s use of PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging. The House bill would also limit discharges of PFAS into drinking water supplies by manufacturers and chemical companies, and the Senate bill would require companies to report some discharges.
Currently there is no law requiring companies to report industrial discharges of PFAS. This means North Carolina has no idea which companies throughout the state are using or releasing PFAS in their manufacturing processes. Municipalities have no way of knowing how or where PFAS is entering their source water supplies. PFAS experts, relying on two EPA databases, estimate nearly 500 companies in North Carolina could be contaminating our rivers, lakes, land, and air with PFAS. Both bills would expand efforts to monitor for PFAS.
The House bill would also designate PFAS as a ‘hazardous substance.’ This designation is important because it would kick-start the clean up process at the most contaminated sites and ensure polluters pay their fair share of clean up costs. Holding polluters accountable will not just ensure that taxpayers don’t get stuck footing the bill, designating PFAS as ‘hazardous substances’ will also ensure companies think twice about how they use PFAS in the future.
Under normal circumstances, the EPA would take action to protect us from chemicals linked to cancer which never break down and build up in our blood and organs. But, these are not normal circumstances. The Trump Administration’s plan to address PFAS, released last year, would do nothing to address the PFAS contamination crisis. So, it’s up to Congress to reduce PFAS discharges and begin to clean up legacy contamination.
Thankfully, our senators have stepped up when our leaders in Washington have not. Most recently, North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis refused to support the Administration’s nominee to review the safety of chemicals when it turned out he had been paid for decades to argue for weaker standards on behalf of chemical companies.
Congress has a moral obligation to protect us from dangerous PFAS chemicals. When I testified before Congress last month, I asked Congress to engage their humanity and protect our most valuable economic resource — human life. Far too many people in my community, and so many others like mine across the country, are suffering from illnesses at ages far too young to pass off as normal. This is literally a life or death situation. Failure to act is a failure of moral integrity and leadership.”
This content provided by the PFAS Project.