Per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of human-made compounds that are now recognized as one of the world’s greatest threats to human health and ecosystems. Some of the most commonly found PFAS are Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). There are hundreds of these compounds in use today; the story below explains the beginnings of these chemical compounds, how some of the long-carbon chain substances have been phased out of use in the U.S., and how the worldwide problem of these “forever chemicals” is being tackled by individuals, communities, organizations, and local and state governments, with the federal government shamefully lagging behind.
PFOA, as a perfluorinated compound or “PFC”, was discovered by a Dupont scientist in 1938 but concerns about poisonous vapors from the chemical held up Dupont’s use for a period of time. After about 15 yrs., without disclosure of potential toxic effects, it was made into Teflon and then into dozens of other applications including non-stick products such as Teflon pans. 3M Corporation developed further uses for PFCs, developing new versions. Dupont also used fluorinated telomers, called “precursor chemicals”, which are found to break down into PFOA. This family of chemicals was commonly used in nonstick papers such as food containers, stain resistant and water resistant fabric and rug coatings, and other consumer products. Along with 3M Corporation, Dupont used PFOA and related perfluorinated chemicals for decades. Many other companies used various PFAS in patented products such as durable plastics and firefighting foams.
PFAS use became so widespread over the decades and their nature is so durable that PFAS has become ubiquitous in our environment. Blood studies that show the presence of PFOA chemicals in the blood of 96% of people in the U. S., approximately 4 ng/mL (nanogram/milliliter). It has even been found in polar bears in the Arctic. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and other scientists have found that PFOAs concentrate in the blood – because the chemical tends to build up in the human body and is difficult to excrete, the levels in an individual’s blood is about 105 times the amount in their drinking water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Because PFOA can remain in the body for a long time, drinking water that contains PFOA can, over time, produce concentrations of PFOA in blood serum that are higher than the concentrations of PFOA in the water itself.” EPA-SAB-06-006 SAB Review of EPA's Draft Risk Assessment of Potential Human Health Effects Associated with PFOA and Its Salts
A class-action lawsuit was brought against Dupont at their West Virginia Washington Works Plant by residents represented by attorney Robert Bilott, exposing willful pollution releases by Dupont of PFC to the environment and a cover up of the issue, setting a fire that eventually led to a sensational expose. PFOA was found in the drinking water in the region, people in West Virginia and Ohio in the region around the factory were found to have excessive amounts of PFOA in their blood (298 to 369 ppb but some had ppb levels in the thousands); stories of local illness and disease were brought to light. To read the entire story of how Rob Bilott’s litigation changed the world of PFAS, starting with Dupont, read his book “Exposure”, a hair-raising page-turner: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Exposure/Robert-Bilott/9781501172823
By 2006, PFAS were being found in many media – ground and surface water, soil, sediments, and wildlife – the toxic properties and their inability to break down in the environment and to build up in human blood had become more evident and mounting evidence of the adverse health effects of PFAS led EPA to order the use of this family of long-carbon-chain perfluorinated chemicals phased out in a slow, voluntary EPA “Stewardship” program. Federal rulemaking issued in 2006 removed exemptions previously given to these chemicals, making them subject to toxic chemical control requirements. (EPA 40 CFR Part 723) EPA fined Dupont $16.5 million in 2006 for covering up years of health hazard information related to Bilott’s exposure of the West Virginia/Ohio debacle. 3M Co. was fined $1.5 million for similar deception. 3M announced that they stopped using the compounds based on their own health studies but Dupont persisted.
A federal report by an independent scientific review panel, the Science Advisory Board, acknowledged in a report dated May 2006 that the compounds are a “likely” cause of cancer. EPA-SAB-06-006 SAB Review of EPA's Draft Risk Assessment of Potential Human Health Effects Associated with PFOA and Its Salts The Centers for Disease Control and John Hopkins reported health impacts in newborn babies such as low birth weight and reduced head circumference (Benjamin Apelberg, Department of Epidemiology, Bloomberg School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, August 2007). The documentation of damning evidence of serious health effects was building.
More studies were published relating to infertility in women. (Chunyuan Fei1,5, Joseph K. McLaughlin2,3, Loren Lipworth2,3, and Jørn Olsen1,4. Maternal levels of perfluorinated chemicals and subfecundity. Human Reproduction, Vol.1, No.1 pp. 1–6, 2009) Metabolic effects are reported in mice in adulthood after prenatal exposure to PFOA. (Hines, E.P.; Gibbs-Flournoy, E.A.; Stanko, J.P.; Newbold, R.; Jefferson, W.; Fenton, S.E. Testing the uterotrophic activity of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the immature CD-1 mouse. The Toxicologist 2009, 108, 297) Pregnancy loss, increased neonatal mortality, abnormal mammary gland growth and other developmental changes are also reported in recent studies. (Hines, E.P.; White, S.S.; Stanko, J.P.; Gibbs-Flournoy, E.A., Lau, C., Fenton, S.E. Phenotypic dichotomy following developmental exposure to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in female CD-1 mice; Low doses induce elevated serum leptin and insulin, and overweight in mid-life. Mol. Cell. Endocrinol. 2009, doi:10.1016/j.mce.2009.02.021) Studies have shown that workers who contact these chemicals are more prone to prostate and bladder cancer and higher than normal levels of cholesterol — a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. (Dupont Council, “Facts not Fiction”, The Case of C8, http://www.dupontcouncil.org/About_Us.htm) In Oregon, studies on trout show that PFOA may promote liver cancer in trout and humans. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/43712/title/Nonstick_chemical_pollutes_water_at_notable_levels
A landmark paper by New Jersey scientists was published in 2009. Gloria B. Post*†, Judith B. Louis†, Keith R. Cooper‡, Betty Jane Boros-Russo§ and R. Lee Lippincott†, Division of Science, Research and Technology, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, P.O. Box 409, Trenton, New Jersey 08625, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University, 76 Lipman Drive, Room 218, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, and Bureau of Safe Drinking Water, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, P.O. Box 426, Trenton, New Jersey 08625, “Occurrence and Potential Significance of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Detected in New Jersey Public Drinking Water Systems”, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es900301s More studies and reports have been and continue to be published, in the thousands at last count.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) has been working on the problems posed by the presence of perfluorinated compounds in our local environment since 2005 when our staff collected tap water samples from homes in the neighborhoods close to DuPont’s Chambers Works facility in Deepwater, New Jersey on the Delaware River. We suspected that there may be a problem because of news reports about the Bilott lawsuit that had been brought in West Virginia against Dupont for releasing PFOA into the environment. Our sampling revealed the presence of PFOA in the drinking water being used by people in the local community.
We notified the residents and filed the information with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), setting off alarm bells and a chain of events that eventually led to NJDEP investigating the occurrence of perfluorinated compounds throughout the state. When NJDEP conducted their first statewide occurrence study, PFCs were detected in 18 of 23 systems (78%) in 2006. High blood levels of PFOA were found in Dupont workers in Deepwater. (Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Updated Occupational Serum Sampling, Chambers Works Facility, Deepwater, New Jersey; submitted to EPA June 4, 2008 by DuPont Corporation) A coalition of organizations - environmental groups and the United Steelworkers who represented workers at Dupont Chambers Works facility - formed in New Jersey to fight for the removal of PFOA from drinking water and the environment and its regulation by the State. Since then, much more has occurred regarding public knowledge and inquiry into this nationwide problem but, unfortunately, not enough government action has resulted and people throughout the nation are still drinking water contaminated with these highly toxic compounds.
NJDEP published its first Occurrence Study for PFOA in New Jersey public drinking water in 2007 and established a PFOA drinking water guidance level of 0.04 ppb (40 ng/L) based on lifetime health effects.
The panel that sets safe drinking water standards, the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI), was shut down by the Christie Administration in September 2010, just prior to the reports from their various subcommittees, which were expected to recommend to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA, which they had been researching and working on for years. The MCL would require water systems in the state to treat their water supplies to remove PFOA to below the MCL. The DWQI was established by the 1983 amendments to the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act (N.J.S.A. 58:12A1 et seq., P.L. 1983, c. 443) and is responsible for developing maximum contaminant levels (MCL) or safe drinking water standards for hazardous contaminants in drinking water and recommending these standards to NJDEP.
Following the DWQI shut down, DRN filed many Open Public Records Act requests for a copy of a report that NJDEP was poised to issue in 2010 based on a second Occurrence Study that sampled water systems throughout New Jersey for PFAS. On multiple occasions, DRN was denied access to the report with NJDEP claiming the report was “deliberative”. Finally, after refiling an OPRA asking for the raw data and copies of notifications sent to water suppliers regarding the 2009 sampling, DRN received information from the Department between July 16 and 18, 2013, including data on 10 PFAS in 33 samples taken by the Department from 32 water supplies throughout New Jersey. The data showed PFAS throughout many of New Jersey’s water supplies. Because a large suite of PF were included in the 2009 testing, there were some obvious red flags in the results. Some water supplies had very high levels of PFAS for which no New Jersey drinking water data was available previously, and very high levels were found in the Delaware River Watershed. Those documents are available on DRN’s website.
DRN filed a letter with DEP calling for immediate action to address this and to make the information available to the public. DRN published the data on our website with the documents and notified news media. The data revealed the highest level of any PFAS in raw groundwater in New Jersey to be a long chain PFAS, Perfluorononanoate acid (PFNA or “C9”), in the water well that supplies drinking water to the Borough of Paulsboro, Gloucester County, on the Delaware River. DRN brought this to the attention of NJDEP and the public, notifying Paulsboro and the local community. DRN held several local meetings in the area around Paulsboro and West Deptford to raise awareness and spur action by municipalities. Several letters to DEP, also available on this website, didn’t move DEP to action in the weeks following the expose of the information. But DRN persisted to loudly rung alarm bells.
DRN’s efforts focused on the fact that people were drinking contaminated water in many places in the state and in the Gloucester County region, the highest of all groundwater contamination by the highly toxic PFA, PFNA. DEP needed to take action to get people off polluted water and needed to reconvene the DWQI to jumpstart the PFAS safe drinking water standard-setting process immediately. DRN research revealed that Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, LLC, a plastics manufacturer in West Deptford was the likely source of the regional PFNA pollution. Looking for a way to solicit independent outside experts, DRN looked to the federal government for support to get action on the unaddressed water contamination that the data showed.
Getting no response from NJDEP to DRN’s letters or public calls for action, DRN reached out to an outside federal agency. DRN filed a Petition with the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in August 2013 requesting that the Agency conduct a public health assessment of Perfluorononanoate acid (PFNA) and other perfluorinated chemicals in the water supply for communities located near the Solvay facility in Thorofare/West Deptford and near Paulsboro, NJ. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency, part of the Public Health Service in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that works to prevent exposure and adverse human health effects from pollution releases in the environment.
DRN focused the Petition on Paulsboro because the raw groundwater that feeds the water supply for Paulsboro was found to contain extremely high levels of PFNA. ATSDR accepted the Petition and a study is ongoing. Subsequently, the State of New Jersey Department of Health has received a multi-year multimillion dollar grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to develop a program to analyze (at the state’s own lab), research and monitor PFAS. That Biomonitoring program is ongoing; Delaware Riverkeeper Network serves on the advisory board for this DOH PFAS project.
Available information showed the source of the PFNA in the Delaware River beginning at River Mile 88/90; the Solvay plastics plant in West Deptford/Thorofare, NJ on the Delaware River is located near River Mile 90. Fluorocarbons and fluoroelstomers are manufactured there using PFNA in their patented product for many years. At this location, near River Mile 90, Solvay is reported to have the second highest production capacity for PVDF (2002) in the world and is known to have emitted huge quantities of PFNA. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es0512475 According to a Solvay report to EPA, a large percentage of PFNA used in manufacturing at the facility is exhausted to the air or released as wastewater. http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/pubs/!Solvay%20Solexis%20report.pdf
IN 2009, the EPA set a federal Provisional Health Advisory Level for short-term drinking water exposure to Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) of 0.4ppb and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) of 0.2ppb, two of the most widely distributed PFAS. Due to widespread presence in the environment and people’s blood and due to the highly toxic and persistent nature of these compounds, EPA took several actions to stop the use of PFAS in the United States. Of importance was the establishment of the stewardship program to phase out the manufacture and use of long-carbon-chain PFAS and the requirement by EPA that PFAS use must be reported by dischargers and users to the agency.
In 2012, EPA added PFOA and 5 other PFAS to the list of contaminants to be monitored in a selection of public water systems across the nation. https://www.epa.gov/dwucmr/third-unregulated-contaminant-monitoring-rule. The data is reported to EPA under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 (UCMR3) and is publicly available. https://www.epa.gov/dwucmr/fact-sheets-about-third-unregulated-contaminant-monitoring-rule-ucmr-3 This mechanism is how many local water purveyors and the public discovered the presence of PFAS in their water supplies. However, not enough has been done and PFAS all remain unregulated at the federal level; only a few states have any standards adopted. (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjr9piUpaXMAhXIbj4KHZOkCAIQFggdMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhealthvermont.gov%2Fenviro%2Fpfoa.aspx&usg=AFQjCNFR3Bcs-LuGTmyduIkQC2GrY0OL_g&sig2=mmGCUao320e3RWF53URz2Q) UPDATE, 2020: For the most up-to-date critical review of state and U.S. regulation of PFAS compounds, see NJ scientist and DEP toxicologist Dr. Gloria Post’s published paper: “Recent US State and Federal Drinking Water Guidelines for Per‐ and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/etc.4863
The EPA advisory level of 0.4ppb was wrongly being used across the nation to judge the safety of drinking water where PFOA had been found; the 0.2ppb was being used as a trigger for action for PFOS. The 0.4 and 0.2 levels were based on short term exposure (typically based on 10-14 days of exposure but EPA has never said how long they consider the PFOA/PFOS advisory levels to apply) and is not a valid level to use as a measurement of what is safe for drinking water.
EPA says they are developing a lifetime health advisory level but it has not yet been issued although a longwinded bureaucratic process is in slow motion. The advisory did not mandate that water suppliers remove PFOA or PFOS from drinking water; it was just an advisory, not a federal enforceable standard. Because the EPA PFOA advisory level was so high at 0.4 ppb and for PFOS at 0.2 ppb, those water systems that show levels below EPA’s advisory levels for years were under the mistaken impression that their water supply was safe and they didn’t need to take any action. This became a controversy and led to EPA applying inconsistent recommended levels in the advice to communities with PFOA contamination.
For instance, in New York 0.1ppb was used by EPA as the trigger to advise people to use bottled water instead of tap water. New Hampshire also followed that advice. However, other areas were using the 0.4 and 0.2 levels. In short, the federal advice on PFAS was inconsistent and still is inexcusably slow; the short-term advisory was never explained fully by EPA to communities, which then led to wrong assumptions about safety and a continuing lack of action to remove contaminated water from use.
Data collected by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and published in a report in July 2012 revealed very high levels of PFNA and other PFAS in surface water in samples between 2007-2009 in the Delaware River. DRBC also found PFAS in fish flesh from the river. Additional investigations are ongoing by DRBC. http://www.state.nj.us/drbc/library/documents/contaminants-of-emerging-concernJuly2012.pdf.
Extensive independent studies have concluded that there is a probable link between exposure to PFOA and testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and four other diseases, based on studies in West Virginia and Ohio communities and other information. (http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/pdfs/Probable_Link_C8_Cancer_16April2012_v2.pdf) The Panel has also found many other health impacts in human populations exposed to PFOA in drinking water. (http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/index.html) PFNA studies report similar health effects but at lower doses.
Meanwhile, in 2013/14 Gloucester County municipalities were taking action on their own as a result of DRN’s expose of the Solvay PFNA contamination; people came out by the hundreds to public meetings demanding the pollution be addressed. Municipal wells in five municipalities were shut down; towns sent letters to Governor Chris Christie, calling for immediate help to secure uncontaminated water. The Borough of Paulsboro filed a Notice of Intent to Sue against Solvay and bottled water was paid for by Solvay for area residents while investigations were done. Over the following months, the cleanup of PFAS under NJDEP’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program was amended to include PFAS and an interim groundwater standard was proposed. NJDEP installed Point of Entry Treatment (POET) systems on private water wells where PFNA above 20 ppt were found. DRN has taken part in all public processes available, including engaging experts to provide technical and scientific input into the several decisions that are being made regarding bringing PFAS under regulation and cleaning it up from the environment. Paulsboro settled with Solvay; Solvay agreed to install a carbon treatment system on the Borough’s water supply to remove PFAS; the installation was to be complete in spring 2016 but after some mis-steps was finally operating some time later. Other municipalities with high levels of PFNA have announced they will be filing notices to sue Solvay as well; some municipalities went ahead and installed granular carbon treatment or bought water from other sources.
The Drinking Water Quality Institute was finally reconvened in April 2014. http://www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/g_boards_minutes.html The DWQI agenda was set by NJ Department of Environmental Protection to research safe drinking water standard recommendations for PFNA, PFOA, and PFOS, in that order of priority. The Institute first worked to research PFNA, the PFAS with the highest levels in New Jersey water supplies, requiring immediate attention. After extensive study, public input and discussion, the Institute issued a recommendation to DEP for PFNA of 13ng/L in June 2015. http://www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/pdf/pfna-recommend-final.pdf DRN recommended a MCL for PFNA that is stricter than the 13 ppt adopted today, based on an independent toxicological analysis DRN commissioned from Dr. Fardin Zoe Oliaei and Don Kriens of Cambridge Environmental Consulting. DRN advocated for a MCL of 3 to 5 ppt to protect the fetus and young children, who can suffer developmental damage that lasts a lifetime or develop disease later in life as a result of the early exposure. DRN advised water suppliers to voluntarily provide treatment for PFNA if any amount is detected to ensure truly safe drinking water for their customers. Any amount of PFNA (and many other PFAS) above the detectable level is dangerous, so practically speaking the drinking water standard should be zero detection, which is about 3 to 5 ppt, depending on where and how the lab analysis is performed.
Reports issued by the DWQI’s Health Effects Subcommittee, Treatment Subcommittee, and Testing Subcommittee all showed that their recommendation was scientifically based, that PFNA could be accurately tested for and that PFAS (including PFOA and PFOS) could be economically treated with available technology such as carbon filtration. PFNA has nine carbons in the carbon chain, making it more toxic at lower doses than PFOA or PFOS and most other PFAS compounds. It can have devastating health effects, including liver damage, metabolic and immune system function problems, increased cholesterol, and development defects in fetuses and young children. The maximum contaminant level of 13ng/L recommended to NJDEP for rulemaking sat for two years before NJDEP finally proposed rulemaking to adopt the mandatory maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFNA of 13ng/L (also measured as 13ppt) and it took another year, after a public input process, before it was adopted into law statewide. In August 2018, New Jersey became the first state to adopt an MCL for any PFAS, when it adopted the PFNA MCL of 13 ppt.
The DWQI next took up PFOA, which they had already studied and were set to recommend an MCL for back in 2010, before the Christie Administration shut the DWQI down. Back in 2007 when the original guidance level was set, only developmental effects in rats had been studied and rats are not a good model for humans due to differences in blood. Chief among the bodies of data and findings that became available since then were those from the court-ordered C8 Health Panel and the C8 Health Project in West Virginia, related to the Dupont facility there. Among the conclusions of this multi-year study of human subjects and scientific reports, it was found that PFOA is linked to Kidney Cancer, Testicular Cancer, Thyroid Disease, High Cholesterol, Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension/Preeclampsia, and Ulcerative Colitis. http://www.c8sciencepanel.org/newsletter10.html These are still today seminal studies looking at the rarely available health effects of a toxic substance on humans, who obviously are not supposed to be used as guinea pigs.
The link to the health effects were found by the C8 Study in the general population and in communities with water contaminated with PFOA. In addition to the six diseases with probable links, the study also verifies links to decreased birth weight and decreased response to vaccines. A report reviewing all of the studies on low birth weight concluded that PFOA does reduce human birth weight. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181929/pdf/ehp.1307893.pdf these devastating developmental problems expose the most vulnerable among us - the fetus, infants, and children - to these adverse health effects that can scar for life or set up an individual to develop disease associated with PFAS later in life.
The DWQI completed their risk assessment and related analyses on PFOA and recommended a safe drinking water level of 14 ppt in 2017, the strictest level in the nation at that time. NJDEP again took an inexplicably long time to actually move the recommendation into rulemaking, presumably waiting until the study and recommendation for the MCL PFOS was completed by the DWQI. Finally, the MCL for PFOS was recommended by the DWQI in 2018 at 13 ppt.
The scientific studies on PFOA make it very clear that low levels of exposure to PFOA build up in the body over time because the compound is not broken down by the body and takes years to excrete. That means that even very low drinking water exposure increases blood levels over the levels found in the general population, risking disease and adverse health effects. Infants are exposed through breast milk and through formula that uses contaminated water. Since infants and children are susceptible to developmental effects, the impact is even greater than for adults. These facts show that extremely vulnerable fetuses, infants, and children are being exposed to the risk of disease and developmental abnormalities from ingesting even low levels of PFOA, constituting a health emergency that requires immediate regulatory action to mandate their removal from drinking water.
Compounding the pollution problem is the fact that PFAS do not break down in the environment either. Even though they have been phased out of manufacture in the U.S. by the major manufacturers, they are still in groundwater, soils, treatment plant sludges, and other media (carried often for a distance due to airflows) and will remain there unless removed by intentional cleanup efforts. They are also in imported products where PFAS are still used, such as China. Some sources of PFAS, such as firefighting foams containing PFAS that are the cause of most if not all military base contamination incidents, are still being used because the foams have a long shelf life and are expensive to replace and because the military has not eliminated PFAS from the aqueous firefighting foams they procure and use.
Action is being taken in other places where this issue has come to light. Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Michigan are some of the locations where high PFAS levels have promoted an outcry for action by communities; some states are responding, some are lagging behind. EPA has made promise and held numerous press conferences to chronicle small steps in research and management but still has not set a federal standard for any PFAS. See the report by Dr. Gloria Post for the most current information on state and federal regulatory actions: “Recent US State and Federal Drinking Water Guidelines for Per‐ and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/etc.4863
Recent investigative news articles have highlighted the toxic legacy of Dupont, 3M and other sources of PFC pollution. A series by Sharon Lerner in The Intercept chronicles PFC pollution, corporate responsibility, and government inaction. https://theintercept.com/search/?s=Teflon%20toxin On January 10, 2016 the New York Times featured an article by Nathaniel Rich about attorney Robert Bilott who has spent his career battling Dupont to expose the truth about the dangers of PFOA. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html?_r=0 another investigation by reporter Mariah Blake, published in the Huffington Post, told the Parkersburg, West Virginia story in detail. http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/ a major motion picture “Dark Waters” was made in 2019 from the previously mentioned book “Exposure” by Attorney Rob Bilott, starring Mark Ruffalo, which received wide acclaim and further expanded public awareness: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Waters_(2019_film).
Finally, on June 1, 2020, NJDEP adopted, after a public comment process, MCLs for both PFOA (14 ppt) and PFOS (13 ppt). Groundwater quality standards (N.J.A.C. 7:9C) were also adopted and PFOA, PFOS, and PFNA, making these MCLs the remediation or cleanup standards for soils and groundwater on polluted sites. They were all also listed as hazardous substances under the Discharge of Petroleum and Other Hazardous Substance rules (N.J.A.C. 7:1E). The MCLs were added to the Private Well Testing Act regulations (N.J.A.C. 7:9E) and the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System rules (N.J.A.C. 7:14A). See https://www.nj.gov/dep/srp/srra/listserv_archives/2020/20200601_srra.html
DRN submitted technical comment to NJDEP during the public comment period and testified at hearings advocating for lower MCLs for both PFOA and PFOS based on toxicological analysis by Cambridge Environmental Consulting. DRN advocated that MCLs for PFOA and PFOS be set at ≤ 1.0 ng/l based on immunotoxicity endpoints. Absent MCLs set at ≤ 1.0 ng/l based on immunotoxicity, the MCL for PFOA should be no greater than six ng/l and the MCL for PFOS no greater than five ng/l based on use of children age-specific body weights and water intakes for children age group 1-6. Again, these are in the range of detection by labs, making these recommendations consistent with a no-detect standard. Any amount of PFOA or PFOS in drinking water can have adverse health effects. See DRN’s comment documents in Supporting Documents below.
Also in the Delaware River watershed, Bucks County has become aware of the presence of PFAS, specifically PFOS and PFOA, in extremely high levels in water near two military bases. Of the sampling results available, the extremely high levels of PFOS and PFOA in the vicinity of the former Naval Air Station at Willow Grove and the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, both in Bucks County, are of very high concern. Sampling done in Warminster, Warrington and Horsham Townships report that the groundwater that feeds public and private wells there are among the worst in the nation. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/ucmr-3-occurrence-data.zip Subsequent sampling of local water supplies have confirmed the continuing presence of high levels of these compounds, several results showing even higher levels than the UCMR3 data. Illnesses reported in news media in the vicinity of the bases make the need for action to remove all of these toxic substances from the water even more urgent.
In Doylestown Township in Bucks County, the Municipal Authority had the sixth highest PFOA sample report in the nation but reportedly is not taking action because the level was less than the EPA’s 0.4 ppb for PFOA and 0.2 ppb for PFOS; Bristol Township’s water provider, Aqua PA, is also reportedly not taking action based on the EPA advisory standard. This mistake could be occurring in other places in the state where PFCs are being found. Water suppliers are not taking action unless the levels reach the EPA short-term advisory of 0.4 ppb for PFOA, which we know is not protective.
PFC contamination in Bucks County and Montgomery County (and PFCs were found in other places in Pennsylvania as well) needs urgent action. Residents are becoming alarmed as more information emerges. DRN has written letters calling for action and recommending what can be done to PA Governor Wolf, Congressmen who represent the Bucks/Montgomery County area and PA State legislators and has met with legislators, attended municipal meetings to get attention to this issue, which the local municipalities are struggling to address. All letters are available on this website. The Navy, National Guard Bureau and local water providers in Bucks County, where the PFOA and PFOS are so alarmingly high, are using incomplete data and inadequate standards to identify contamination that should be addressed.
Unfortunately, using too high a level as a trigger for action (the EPA short term advisory of 0.4ppb), meant that the water replacements and treatment being paid for by the military in the area around the Bucks County bases is likely not nearly what they, as the responsible party, should be covering. For instance, as additional wells are shut down due to contamination, costs for replacement water could go up in amounts that are not covered by current agreements between the Navy and municipal water authorities. Also, if too high a standard is applied some people could still be drinking contaminated water.
On May 19, 2016, EPA issued a combined drinking water health advisory for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) of .07 ppb (70 ppt). EPA stated that the agency’s “…assessment indicates that drinking water with individual or combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.” See: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos The new EPA health advisory has had a huge effect at the local level, requiring the removal form use of more water wells, both public and private supplies. This is a considerably lower level than the short-term provisional health advisory that has been in place since 2009; the short term advisory was used as the trigger for action by communities facing PFOA and PFOS contamination. Many people have been drinking water that was considered safe under the former short term advisory but is now not considered safe. Water suppliers and private well users need to make sure that water that contains this level is taken out of use immediately.
DRN issued a statement called into question the adequacy of this advisory level considering the toxic effects of the compounds based on all the scientific literature and human health studies available. See: http://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/Press%20stmnt%20PFOAPFOS%20EPA5.19.16.pdf DRN advocates for PFOA and PFOS to be removed completely from drinking water, requiring water supplies to be treated so that PFOA and PFOS are not present at all. These toxic compounds do not occur naturally; they have been introduced to our drinking water and environment by dischargers and do not belong there.
It is important to keep front and center the fact that Dupont and 3M, as the corporations that invented and manufactured perfluorinated compounds that went into the products discharged to the environment at these facilities must be investigated as the ultimate responsible parties. Are these wealthy corporations being probed for culpability to identify all parties responsible that should contribute funds to address this crisis? Cleanup of the contamination shouldn’t be stymied by or excused from immediate action by a lack of available money.
Wherever PFCs have been found, there needs to be more thorough sampling of all drinking water sources and other media to locate these compounds and the specific sources of contamination at the lowest levels that can be detected. The UCMR3 data is only the tip of the iceberg, snapshots of some selected water systems. The presence of PFC contamination of water in regions around military bases where firefighting foams were used prolifically – such as in training and air fields over the decades – present the Department of Defense with a national problem that needs coordinated nationwide attention.
Environmental and health agencies at the state level need to be involved in the response; these agencies should step up to help local communities by conducting further sampling of drinking water where these compounds may be present and conducting investigations to identify the responsible parties and hold them accountable for their actions.
Where contamination is discovered but no responsible party is yet identified, the state should be providing alternative sources of safe water to residents. The state can pursue re-imbursement from those responsible but immediate action should not be delayed. The federal government should fully fund the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water Revolving Fund to provide needed monies.
Additionally, there needs to be testing of human blood of residents who have been drinking this water and living near or working on land that has been contaminated, followed by health studies of the population. The state’s cancer registry should be fully analyzed by state epidemiologists for occurrences of linked diseases in PFC contaminated regions. Finally, safe drinking water standards need to be adopted federally and at the state level to remove to non-detect all PFCs from drinking water. The health risks (and the vulnerable populations exposed) are simply too great to warrant any less.
PFCs are a national problem and require active participation by EPA, the Department of Defense, state agencies, the Centers for Disease Control, academic institutions and others to get on top of this widespread water contamination issue and remove these toxic compounds from drinking water and the environment. Ultimately, the costs must be covered by responsible parties to ensure our water and environment are safe from these highly toxic compounds so closely correlated to human disease and adverse health effects.
Throughout 2017, the public and local governments in Pennsylvania took action. Private lawsuits were brought for personal injury related to the water contamination around the military bases in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, consolidated into one case by the Courts. Municipalities either are now using the EPA HAL for PFOA and PFOS of 70ppt or are attempting to remove the compounds completely from their drinking water. Some wells have been shut down and some water systems are blending clear water with contaminated water to reduce the concentration of the contaminants below 70 ppt.
However, the lack of a consistent standard and uniform protection of the public and the lack of action by Pennsylvania to consider adopting drinking water standards for these toxic compounds led to DRN taking the initiative in the form of a Petition submitted to the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) or a safe drinking water standard under the Commonwealth’s Safe Drinking Water Act.
DRN’s Petition to the PA EQB to set an MCL not to exceed 6 ppt for PFOA was unanimously accepted at the Board’s August meeting, commencing a process that is unprecedented in Pennsylvania history. Under PA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, the state can adopt a safe drinking water standard for a dangerous contaminant found in drinking water. The federal government has no mandatory standard and the highly toxic compound has been found in drinking water sources for at least 70,000 people in Bucks and Montgomery Counties near the military bases. PADEP says they will research the contaminant and make a recommendation by April 2018; the standard would be the first MCL ever set by Pennsylvania. Petition: http://bit.ly/2psG1uu
Also in 2017, NJ Department of Environmental Protection finally proposed the adoption of a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFNA, one of the most toxic perfluorinated compounds. PFNA, found at extremely high concentrations in water supplies for several Delaware River Watershed communities near the Solvay Plastics Plant in Gloucester County, is the first perfluorinated compound that the NJ DWQI tackled in its charge to develop MCLs for these chemicals when it reconvened. DEP proposed a MCL of 13ppt, recommended by the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute. DRN supported the proposed rulemaking but supported an MCL between 3 and 5 ppt to provide the most protection possible to fetuses and young children. DRN’s commissioned report by experts Fardin Oliaei, MPA, PhD, and Don Kriens, Sc.D., P.E. of Cambridge Environmental Consulting was submitted and DRN issued an action alert for the public to comment in writing and at the Hearing held in August.
In DRN’s comment to NJDEP re. PFNA, we objected to the proposal to phase in monitoring of the state’s water supplies during 2019-2020. We argued that one of the most important benefits of the adoption of a MCL is that all water users will be equally protected by the mandatory requirement for water systems to sample for the contaminant and remove it where it is found. DRN advocated for swift commencement of monitoring for PFNA to locate all water systems that are contaminated and rapidly remove it from all drinking water. DRN argued that anything else would be unjust and unfairly burdens communities that are not going to be immediately sampled on a regular basis. The communities that are aware now of PFNA contamination, primarily the Delaware River Watershed Gloucester County region, have already been disproportionately burdened by years of exposure to the toxic compound through drinking water and other pathways of exposure. They need immediate implementation of monitoring for PFNA in all size water systems to fulfill their right to know and to establish transparent disclosure of what is in their water. Communities that do not yet know if they have been exposed require that information immediately as well since they could be drinking contaminated water and don’t know it. DRN also advocated for PFNA to be added to the contaminants that must be tested for and removed under the NJ Private Well Testing Act because people with private wells could be drinking water contaminated with PFNA. However, the rulemaking MCL and monitoring schedule was not changed by NJDEP. See DRN comment: https://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/DRN%20PFNA%20MCL%20Comment%20to%20NJDEP%20(2017-10-04).pdf Verbal testimony by DRN is shown below in Supporting Documents.
In August 2018, New Jersey made history by becoming the first state to address the water crisis by the adoption of regulation that requires removal of a PFAS compound from drinking water supplies. An MCL of 13ppt was adopted for PFNA. See DRN Press Release linked below.
In addition, the NJ DWQI concluded their research and recommended to NJDEP MCLs for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS). DRN commented to the DWQI on each of the MCLs as the comment periods arose. See DRN Comments below and for the NJ DWQI reports see: https://www.state.nj.us/dep/watersupply/g_boards_dwqi.html
In July 2018, NJDEP Division of Science, Research, and Environmental Health issued a report “Investigation of Levels of Perfluorinated Compounds in New Jersey Fish, Surface Water, and Sediment”, a landmark study documenting the prevalence and persistence of perfluorinated compounds (PFC) in New Jersey. (https://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/) The findings verified that these highly toxic compounds are plaguing New Jersey’s environment and fish.
The fish tissue investigation resulted in new fish consumption advisories, also released yesterday, which includes limits on consumption of fish because of the presence of dangerous levels of PFCs (http://www.fishsmarteatsmartnj.org/) Other pollutants were also sampled for and used to develop the new advisories, including mercury, PCBs, and pesticides. This is the first time that PFCs were included.
In January 2019, a water science publication Water on Line published “PFAS – A National Problem with Personal Costs” by DRN’s Tracy Carluccio. See the article here: https://www.wateronline.com/doc/pfas-a-national-problem-with-personal-costs-0001
Also in 2019, EPA stated that it did not expect to follow through on the adoption of MCLs for any PFAS compounds, sending a wave of shock through communities that were hoping a federal standard was forthcoming. In addition to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, hot spots of PFAS contamination had emerged in Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Washington state and elsewhere.
In March 2019, New Jersey issued directives to five companies that have released polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to account for their use and release of these highly toxic compounds in the state. Solvay, DuPont, Dow DuPont, Chemours and 3M are required to provide the information under New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, Water Pollution Control Act and Air Pollution Control Act. See the directive here: https://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/statewide-pfas-directive-20190325.pdf These directives could be a mechanism for forcing accountability for the PFAS pollution these companies have caused in the state. In May 2019 NJ’s Attorney General Grewell announced the state filed suit for natural resource damages against corporations that had contaminated the environment with PFAS compounds: 3M COMPANY; TYCO FIRE PRODUCTS LP; CHEMGUARD, INC.; BUCKEYE FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY; KIDDE-FENWAL, INC.; NATIONAL FOAM, INC.; E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & COMPANY; THE CHEMOURS COMPANY; and “ABC CORPORATIONS” 1-10 (Names Fictitious). See the Complaint here: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases19/AFFF_Complaint.pdf
New Jersey proposed Draft Interim Specific Ground Water Quality Criteria (ISGWQC) and Draft Interim Practical Quantitation Levels (PQLs) for PFOS and PFOA in early 2019. DRN advocated for stricter standards than what was proposed. See DRN Comment linked below under Supporting Documents.
Later in 2019, NJDEP proposed a comprehensive regulatory package addressing PFAS that included:
Discharges of Petroleum and Other Hazardous Substances Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:1E; Ground Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9C; Private Well Testing Act Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:9E; Safe Drinking Water Act Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:10; and New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:14A.
The proposed regulations would require PFOA and PFOS to be tested for and removed from drinking water if found above 13ppt for PFOS and 14ppt for PFOS in public and private wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Private Well Testing Act rules.
The Discharges of Petroleum and Other Hazardous Substances rule would add PFOA and PFOS (and the anionic form of PFNA) to the List of Hazardous Substances regulated under the Spill Compensation and Control Act. This would increase the restrictions on their handling to prevent discharges, impose strict liability for timely investigation and cleanup, and connect to a Spill Fund that is used for remediation, cleanup, and removal, among other actions.
Under the Ground Water Quality Standards, the MCLs for PFOA (14ppt) and PFOS (13ppt) will become the groundwater standard that must be met for groundwater that is primarily used for drinking water and will be the minimum remediation standards for cleanup of contaminated sites. These would replace the interim standards that were in place.
For all of the proposals, DRN commented in support of DEP’s action but for stricter standards. DRN also issued action alerts for people to comment directly to DEP in writing and at the scheduled Hearing. DRN advocated an even stricter standard based on our independent toxicological analysis commissioned by DRN. An MCL of 1ppt or no greater than 6ppt for PFOA and 5ppt for PFOS is recommended based on greater protection for the fetus, infants and young children who are vulnerable to developmental effects and the risk of future disease from these compounds. This is essentially “non-detect” since these are close to the levels that can be reliably measured in laboratory testing. DRN also advocated a standard of the combination of PFOS and PFOA concentrations in water supplies should be no higher than 13 ng/L. See the report and DRN’s comment on PFOA: https://bit.ly/2VuRnyZ and on PFOS: https://bit.ly/2C9NMOt DRN’s verbal testimony is linked below.
During this time, federal legislation was being introduced and efforts made to make the Department of Defense accountable. DRN has supported certain legislative efforts.
In June 2020, New Jersey finally adopted MCLs for PFOA and PFOS. In the end, it took almost 20 years for PFOA and PFOS to be regulated and New Jersey is one of the few states that has enacted mandatory, enforceable drinking water and cleanup standards. The public clamored for this protection, municipalities took extraordinary measures to fight for it, and dedicated work by the state’s nationally recognized scientists made it happen.
On the other hand, the federal government under the Trump Administration continued to sit idle regarding PFAS with no regulation to force its removal from drinking water. As a result of federal dawdling, the public health issues facing the nation became even more pressing now as the COVID 19 pandemic emerged in early spring, considering that those with compromised health are more susceptible to the coronavirus. DRN considers it unjust and oppressive that there are no federal safe drinking water or cleanup standards that protect everyone equally. Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) advocated for stricter maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) than those adopted. To see NJDEP’s news announcement and a link to the adoption: https://www.nj.gov/dep/newsrel/2020/20_0025.htm
Between 2017 and 2019, there were many actions that raised the profile of PFAS in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as across the nation. In many instances, people continued to drink PFAS contaminated water without knowing it although slowly some regulatory mandates were adopted. Legislation was introduced in Pennsylvania and other states and at the federal level. DRN commented publicly or submitted letters to various agencies including EPA, PA DEP Secretary and EQB Chair Patrick McDonnell, Governor Phil Murphy, as well as to federal and state representatives advocating for action to adopt MCLs, find where the compounds are located and who is responsible, and require the cleanup of PFAS from sources of pollution and the environment through mandatory regulation. DRN’s Op Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other various letters and comments are linked below under Supporting Documents. DRN also regularly submits comments to the Delaware River Basin Commission on Dockets in impacted regions within the Watershed for wastewater and municipal sewage treatment plants, landfill leachate systems, water withdrawal and treatment systems and other projects, advocating that PFAS be monitored for and regulated.
In Pennsylvania, in reaction to the huge controversy and public outcry about PFAS contamination from the three military bases in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, Governor Tom Wolf Governor issued an Executive Order in September 2018. Also, numerous other known and suspected PFAS contamination sites throughout Pennsylvania were under investigation by the DEP and have been reported through EPA sampling. At least fifteen public and two hundred private wells supplying approximately 100,000 people with water in Pennsylvania, including DRN members, have been impacted with some of the highest contamination in the United States.
While it is essential to do the sampling that the Task Force and E.O. sets up, DRN is critical of this approach without action by the EQB and PADEP to regulate. DRN stated in a statement that it was problematic that the Governor was not engaging the EQB or DEP to adopt safe drinking water standards for PFAS or maximum contaminant levels (MCL) as it is charged to do under Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Act. To instead set up a redundant bureaucratic committee called an “Action Team” without even mentioning the EQB or safe drinking water standards was criticized by DRN as not only a huge oversight, but also an undermining of the EQB and government processes already in place that should be acting to regulate and remove these toxic compounds from drinking water.
The executive actions, including the Executive Order, stated no defined goal that would assure the regulation of these compounds, requiring their removal. In April 2018, a spokesperson for the agency said they were working to build the capacity to develop MCLs in response to DRN’s petition for a MCL for PFOA; the petition was submitted by DRN in May 2017 and unanimously accepted by the EQB in August 2017. Yet more than a year passed and all that occurred was the Governor’s E.O. and the establishing of a “PFAS Action Team” Task Force with no defined goal.
DRN presented a slide presentation to the PFAS “Action Team” at their first public session in November 2018. See DRN’s presentation here: https://bit.ly/39KYcFU A recording of the session, with testimony from many impacted residents, is here: https://bit.ly/2FMXvP8. In February 2019, the “Action Team” came to Fort Washington, PA where commenters testified from the region, including DRN. A written comment period was open until April, then extended into May. DRN encouraged people to give input to the Task Force, issuing action alerts with information and educational materials regarding PFAS and its occurrence in Pennsylvania.
See the points DRN shared with the public here: https://bit.ly/3cPGTVW. In April 2019, PADEP published its PFAS Sampling Plan. DRN submitted written comment as well as verbal testimony on the Plan, criticizing that the sampling’s self-imposed limits that greatly reduce the value of the data that will be produced. See DRN’s comments here: https://bit.ly/3mqrM8D
In December 2019, PADEP issued its PFAS Initial Report. The link to the report is below under Supporting Documents.
There are other locations in Bucks County that were discovered to have elevated levels of PFAS. Doylestown, Ridge Run, and Quakertown all have PFAS at levels dangerous to human health. There could be other locations but the threshold for action by PADEP in their website report is the EPA HAL of 70 ppt for PFOA and PFOS, so other locations with lower levels that are also dangerous to health have not been identified and other PFAS are just beginning to be sampled by PADEP under their state sampling plan. Investigations have been slow and not yielded a source for the water well contamination for the Borough of Doylestown, which is located in Doylestown Township. DRN addresses this in our Petition to the PA EQB and DEP has information on their website with maps. To see the places where PFAS have been found above the EPA’s HAL of 70 ppt, visit the PADEP website to review these locations: Boarhead Farms NPL Site; ChemFab NPL Site; Easton Road HSCA Site; Former Naval Air Warfare Center - Warminster (NPL Site); Ridge Run HSCA Site; and Watson Johnson Landfill NPL Site.
The Ridge Run contamination is known to have originated from firefighting foam that was discharged to extinguish a large long-lived tire fire, contaminating water wells in East and West Rock Hill Townships. This ongoing pollution problem was open for public comment on the proposed Hazardous Sites Clean-Up under HSCA – DRN comment is available here. DRN supports the provision of municipal water through an extension of the current water delivery system rather than individual well treatments systems. PADEP is only providing at-home individual treatment for the impacted wells.
Even though DRN’s Petition for Rulemaking was accepted by PA EQB, no action was taken by the state to respond to the Petition by the issuance of the statutorily required report on how they were going to address the request or towards the adoption of an MCL for PFOA. Due to this, DRN sued Pennsylvania in May 2019 by filing a Petition for Review in the Commonwealth Court. Per the EQB’s regulations, the DEP was required to issue a report on the 2017 Petition within sixty days, or within another time period as suggested by the DEP. At the August 15, 2017 meeting of the EQB, the DEP stated it would issue the report on the proposed MCL by June of 2018. But they did not.
Two years after the initial Petition submission and nearly one year after the June 2018 date the PADEP stated it would issue a report, the DEP failed to do anything they said they were going to do. DRN had no recourse but to file a lawsuit to try to force action by the Commonwealth to fulfill its responsibilities under the law and to remove PFOA from drinking water. People in Pennsylvania are drinking water that may have dangerous PFAS concentrations and nothing is being done to remove it by the agencies responsible to protect Pennsylvanians, ensuring clean water as a Constitutional right. Read the legal filing here. In July 2019 DRN filed an amended Petition for Review in the Nature of an Action for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. In February 2020, DRN filed a Brief in support of their response to amended preliminary objections. The Commonwealth Court issued an order that denied in part and left open in part DRN’s Petition. PADEP responded with their preliminary objections. DRN filed a Petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for permission to appeal the interlocutory order. See the filing here.
In March 2021, PADEP noticed in the PA Bulletin that DEP plans to propose PFAS MCLs to the Environmental Quality Board in the fourth quarter of 2021.
DRN and PADEP exchanged reports and comments from January 2021 through the next months. PADEP finally responded in April 2021 with an evaluation report on DRN’s 2017 Petition. Additional documentation of the need for the strictest MCLs was provided by DRN in its Response document to PADEP’s evaluation report. In June 2021 the PADEP PFAS rulemaking was approved at the PA Environmental Quality Board (EQB) meeting. All the relevant documents from DEP, the Drexel PFAS Report and Workbook, and DRN’s response/comments are available for download from the EQB June 15 agenda documents here: https://www.dep.pa.gov/PublicParticipation/EnvironmentalQuality/Pages/2021-Meetings.aspx
In July 2021, PADEP published a pre-draft proposed rulemaking for MCLs for PFOA and PFOS after gaining approval form the EQB the month prior. In November 2021 PDEP issued the proposed rulemaking that recommended a Safe Drinking Water MCL for PFOA of 14 ppt and for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) of 18 ppt, announcing that the proposal would be voted on by the PA Environmental Quality Board at their November meeting. It was approved by the EQB at that meeting and proceeded towards adoption by the state.
DRN and other Pennsylvania organizations had argued for changes to the draft rules: stricter MCL standards than those proposed by PADEP; MCLs to be set for more PFAS compounds, at very least to include all the PFAS compounds for which PADEP has sampled and found in the state’s environment; more and broader sampling to identify locations where water testing must be done to stop peoples’ exposure to PFAS contamination; other regulatory actions to clean up polluted sites and stop the spread of PFAS; and a more streamlined and faster adoption process. (See DRN comments and public alerts under Supporting Documents below). The MCLs don’t become mandatory for “systems serving a population of greater than 350 persons until January 1, 2024 and for systems serving a population of less than or equal to 350 persons until January 1, 2025.” DRN and others consider this to be an unjustifiable delay to urgently needed removal of these highly toxic compounds from drinking water in PA. DRN continues to encourage water suppliers to voluntarily adopt the MCLs now to provide needed protection immediately. The MCLs have been adopted by DEP and are now being implemented statewide as described in the final rule: https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Water/BureauSafeDrinkingWater/DrinkingWaterMgmt/Regulations/Pages/PFAS-MCL-Rule.aspx.
PFAS water contamination is also a problem in the state of Delaware. In 2020, DRN investigated the presence of PFAS in Delaware through file reviews to learn about the history of sites where PFAS are detected, determine whether any water sampling is being conducted, and if so, learn what sampling has revealed. Information was gathered from the State of Delaware, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, as well as public reports and articles. Some scientific reports were also used to develop a picture of PFAS in the state. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) was difficult to obtain records from due to their restrictive and outdated Freedom of Information Act procedures but eventually, with persistence, DRN did obtain information from the state. COVID19 pandemic restrictions prevented in-person forums but DRN shared what was learned publicly on a webinar (available for viewing here) for Delaware communities titled, “Delaware’s PFAS problem.” Highlighted was PFAS occurrence information, sampling data results, a focus on “hot spots” of contamination that are ongoing problems in Delaware, what is being done to address the pollution, and what DNREC can do to require the removal of PFAS from drinking water in the state. DRN is continuing investigations in Delaware and outreach to impacted communities.
In July 2021, a startling report was brought to DRN’s attention by Dusty Horwitt who had been investigating PFAS for several years. Published by the Physicians for Social Responsibility the “Fracking with Forever Chemicals” report demonstrates that PFAS and/or substances that break down into PFAS are used in gas and oil well drilling and fracking, based on research into information from the Environmental Protection Agency. The report also shows that PFAS can make its way into wastewater produced by fracking. The report provided evidence that PFAS may have been used to frack wells in the Marcellus shale of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Further research was done by the Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer that found that PFAS was used in at least eight Pennsylvania fracking wells between 2012 and 2014 – the Inquirer published this finding in July 2021: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/fracking-pennsylvania-pfas-toxic-chemicals-water-20210805.html Further research and reports on PFAS in oil and gas drilling and fracking have been published by PSR since then: https://psr.org/resources/?_sf_s=PFAS&_sft_resources_types=reports DRN has an ongoing petition to the USEPA to ban the use of all PFAS products in oil and gas extraction nationwide, available for signature: https://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/node/6691.
Over the years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has examined PFAS and their potential health effects. In 2018 ATSDR’s “Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs) and Environmental Media Evaluation Guides (EMEGs) for Perfluoroalkyls (PFAS)” was released, showing that much lower levels of PFAS can have adverse health effects than what EPA or other agencies had previously stated. Since then, more research and new information is available: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/ In September 2019 ATSDR announced the start of “a multi-site health study to investigate the relationship between drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and health outcomes” (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0923-cdc-atsdr-award-pfas-study.html). Grants of $1 million each were awarded, 2 of the studies located in the Delaware River Watershed: to RTI International and the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Montgomery County, PA; and to Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences School of Public Health for Paulsboro, Gloucester County, NJ. Hope Grosse and Joanne Stanton, founders and leaders of Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water (https://www.buxmontwater.org/) are assisting with the study of the region around the 3 military bases in Bucks and Montgomery Counties in PA. The Rutgers EOSHI Institute manages the Paulsboro study (https://eohsi.rutgers.edu/paulsborohealthstudy/). These studies are taking blood samples and health data from residents who qualify. COVID slowed the studies during 2020 and some are still underway in 2023; final results are expected in 2023-2024.
In 2022-2023, the Biden Administration started to take actions that have been long overdue regarding PFAS. Policies and regulations based on up to date science have been pushed by public advocacy and federal legislation but the most directly effective changes are still being made at the state level (as of 2023, 10 states have adopted statewide MCLs, for instance), through litigation (see for example July 2023 $13+M 3M settlement of lawsuits brought by water providers – even though this is only a beginning to the huge costs to clean up all PFAS: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jun/22/3m-settlement-municipal-water-systems-pfas-contamination), and through advocacy to stop the use of PFAS in consumer products (see Safer States: https://www.saferstates.com/toxic-chemicals/pfas/).
A monumental proposal is supposed to be in the offing at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however. EPA announced in March 2023 its plan to propose National Primary Drinking Water Regulation rulemaking for six PFAS compounds. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/03/29/2023-05471/pfas-national-primary-drinking-water-regulation-rulemaking A maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA of 4 ppt and for PFOS of 4 ppt have been proposed and four other PFAS are proposed be regulated as mixtures through a hazard index – PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS, and GenX (HFPO-DA) (for PFNA this is about 10ppt). This regulatory action to require the removal of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from drinking water nationwide is absolutely essential to provide protection to all Americans; DRN is supporting the federal proposal. The public comment period closed on May 30; MCLs are supposed to be formally set by the end of 2023.
DRN was contacted by investigative reporters from Belgium in the spring of 2022 and met them to tour the region around the West Deptford Solvay facility. Their interest centered on the toxic “replacement compound” being used by Solvay in place of PFNA. DRN had brought the problem of this so-called “Replacement Compound” to NJDEP’s attention in letters in 2020. We knew that DEP was aware of the issue but there was no known response by the agency to protect residents from exposure. DRN and other concerned organizations wrote to NJDEP on July 1, 2020 (see: https://bit.ly/3upxxXC) and October 12, 2020 (see: https://bit.ly/3tgDWD2) about the reports issued in scientific journals concerning the findings by NJDEP and USEPA researchers’ discovery of the “Solvay Replacement” or chloro-perfluoropolyether carboxylates (Cl-PFPECA) in New Jersey. This chemical was supposed to have been used, according to Solvay, to replace PFNA. It turns out, however, that the “replacement” is actually more toxic than PFNA, an ironic outrage, and is now being found in the environment and drinking water. DRN has been advocating that NJDEP take action to sample extensively in all media (including drinking water, soil, surface water, sediment, fish, food, and biosolids) in the region around the Solvay plant for the chemical and other related chemicals that are known to break down into PFAS, being used by Solvay today. NJDEP has not been responsive to the letters and emails from DRN. DRN is actively working to get action by NJDEP on this issue. One request by DRN has been addressed – the Rutgers health study that is sampling blood of Paulsboro residents has responded by adding Cl-PFPECA to the PFAS compounds it is sampling for in their study, which is an important measure that will benefit those being tested in the study. This, however, only covers the less than 1,000 Paulsboro-only residents that are in this ATSDR-funded multi-state study; the population in the affected area is approximately 70,000 people. DRN has also been advocating with the local community to have a formal public participation plan that will bring the impacted public into the decisionmaking about the Solvay remediation plan being carried out by NJDEP. There is an essential need for residents and workers who live and work in the region to be involved in the critical decisions that are going to be made about the cleanup of the Solvay site and the cessation of all PFAS pollution releases into the environment. This too has been stonewalled as of July of 2023 but DRN and the public will continue to push the public in.
The scientific reports cited in the letters to NJDEP from DRN linked above on Cl-PFPECA were used by the Belgian researchers to develop a method to sample the blood of residents in the community where a Solvay manufacturing plant is located in Spinetta, Italy. They also tested discharge water samples from the Solvay Spinetta plant. The University of Liege laboratories analyzed discharge water samples from Solvay’s Spinetta, Italy plant and found people living near the plant are more exposed to PFOA than the people living further away. They also found that 55% of the Spinetta water samples exceed the health value [HBM-II] (10ug/l) for PFOA set by the German Biomonitoring Commission.
The scientists also analyzed the blood samples of Spinetta residents to see if the PFNA replacement used by Solvay in West Deptford (Cl-PFPECA), also used at the plant there, was present. They found it in 100% of the blood samples from Spinetta residents. They qualify their findings because they did not have the analytical standard and had to develop one from other research that has been done on water (the research findings from the EPA and NJDEP reported in the 2020 journal articles), so they were unable to quantify precisely, only to identify whether or not it was present. These findings raise the question – is Solvay’s highly toxic replacement compound in the blood of people who have been exposed to air and water from the plant in New Jersey? And if so what is it doing to their health? This question is urgently in need of an answer.
Two reports were released by Belgian investigators later in 2022. One report is from the University of Liege Faculty of Science Department of Chemistry Mass Spectrometry Lab Research Unit MolSys Prof. G. Eppe, entitled “Request for Identification of Emerging Perfluorinated Substances in Water and Blood Samples from Residents of an Industrial Site”. The other is from “University Hospital of Liege Toxicology Department Professor Dr Corinne Charlier - C.Charlier@chuliege.be Head of Department, Full Professor - Forensic Expert, entitled “DETERMINATION OF PERFLUORINATED SUBSTANCES IN THE BLOOD OF PEOPLE LIVING NEAR AN INDUSTRIAL SITE”. (See below under Reports for these reports). The Belgian news agency also released a video they made, which is available here: https://vimeo.com/838491135/c0bafc8cf9?share=copy. This international video includes the West Deptford Solvay plant, members of the local community, and DRN.
Other regulatory action was taken in January 2022 by NJDEP to address Cl-PFPECA. NJDEP established an interim specific ground water quality criterion for ClPFPECAs of 0.002 µg/L. “The ISGWQC applies to the total concentration of CIPFPECA congeners in ground water and will be the enforceable standard for CIPFPECA, until the specific ground water quality standard for CIPFPECA is established by rule at N.J.A.C. 7:9C.” as explained at https://www.nj.gov/dep/dsr/supportdocs/NewSupportDocuments.html. This essential regulatory standard will be used in remediation and sampling of groundwater contaminated with this compound.
There has been litigation brought by the Attorney General (AG) for New Jersey and NJDEP in recent years against the companies that have contaminated drinking water in New Jersey with PFAS. Related to the Directives that were mentioned previously on this web page, DEP brought a lawsuit under several state environmental laws against Solvay because they did not sufficiently reply to the Directive. Additionally, here have been natural resource damages to the region by Solvay that NJDEP and the AG wanted Solvay to pay to remediate. On June 28, 2023 New Jersey entered into a proposed settlement of the lawsuit with Solvay – the court papers and related documents are here: https://dep.nj.gov/solvay/
DRN and fellow environmental groups will be delving into the settlement proposal, which will be published for public comment in August with comments due in October. In the interim DRN stated that after witnessing the pollution impacts from Solvay and advocating to make them, as the polluter, pay for the damage and stop their ongoing releases of toxics, DRN will be scrutinizing the provisions in the settlement closely. Because the region has been indelibly harmed by Solvay’s highly toxic contamination, DRN considers that the impacted community must benefit directly from whatever settlement is reached. New Jersey stated that the settlement does not cover human health harms or fund health studies and does not include damages to the Delaware River, which NJDEP claims can be addressed by a separate (yet to be started) multi-state effort.
- PFAS in PA: Current Actions to Address This Toxic Peril (2023-03-29)
- Guidance on PFAS Testing and Health Outcomes Meeting 2 - Eastern U.S. Town Hall (2021-04-21)
- Delaware’s PFAS Problem Webinar (2020-10-22)
- Virtual Forum on PFAS Contamination in Gloucester County (2021-05-10)
- Highlights from Woodbury, NJ informational meeting on PFAS drinking water threat (2021-07-26)
- National Academies on Science, Engineering, and Medicine Report on PFAS Testing and Clinical Follow up
- Fracking with Forever Chemicals (2020-07-21)
- Belgium Report #1 – Univ. Hosp. of Liege Toxicology Dept.
- Belgium Report #2 - Univ. of Liege Mass Spectrometry Lab