June 27, 2018
More than 200 people participated in the opening session of the first of several regional summits on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PSAS) and related chemicals that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to sponsor over the coming year. The summit held in Exeter, New Hampshire included both a public forum Monday, June 25 and a series of workshops the following day which involved environmental officials from the state, the federal government, municipal officials and interested parties. This regional summit was a follow-up to the EPA’s National Summit held in Washington, DC in May as it considers new standards and regulations to deal with the threats posed by this group of chemicals and the development of effective environmental cleanup methods. For more information on these chemicals and the community engagement process.
David Bond, from Bennington College, gave one of several presentations before the gathering. Bond said different regulations in every state and different levels of enforcement have made it more difficult to address the complex challenges posed by PFAS. Bond contrasted Vermont’s quick action when contamination was found in Bennington County with the slower, less vigorous response from New York state to PFAS contamination in the Hoosick Falls, New York, area.
However, Bond did praise a recent lawsuit filed by New York in an attempt to hold companies that released the chemicals into the atmosphere responsible for the costs of dealing with the contamination. He also said “I think of Vermont as a model for how to respond,” when Former Gov. Peter Shumlin and other officials, swooped in immediately after the tainted wells were discovered and held informational sessions. The governor ensured that water was delivered to residents, and the state pressured Saint Gobain to extend a water line to affected residents, as well as, having the Vermont Department of Health hold screening clinics.
Bond explained that exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and similar chemicals, primarily through drinking water, has been associated with high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension. These highly soluble chemicals can be spread through spills, dump sites or through factory stack emissions, working their way into groundwater or reservoir water sources, where it is believed they will not dissipate for many years, if ever.
Bond recommended a uniform, national approach guided from the federal level, including legal action if necessary by the Department of Justice against polluters.
Bond also stated that the EPA released an 850-plus-page draft report on June 21 that indicated the standards for the level of PFOA in drinking water should be lowered significantly. The EPA has set a safe drinking water standard at 70 parts per trillion, while Vermont set its standard at 20 parts per trillion. Bond stated, that both might need to be lowered, according to the draft report. The Comment Period for the draft report, prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) must be submitted by July 21.
By Gregory Kolen II. Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable