PFAS: The Fight Of Our Lives

We Can’t Act Soon Enough On Forever Chemicals

PFAS, or “forever chemicals” are the contaminants of concern right now. Two of the most well-known of this class of chemicals are PFOA and PFOS, which are byproducts of industry used regularly since the ‘40s and ‘50s.

In 2000, 3M announced the voluntary, global phase out of production of both PFOA and PFOS. In 2006, chemical industry leaders agreed to the EPA’s proposal to phase out the use of PFOA. But China still produces thousands of pounds of it, which can find its way into imported items.

Despite these phase outs, these man-made chemicals remain everywhere. Not surprisingly, the highest levels of these contaminants are found in water and communities near facilities that made or used these substances.

Earlier today, I shared an opinion piece for The Guardian out about how these (and other) toxic chemicals threaten humanity. It starts:  

The end of humankind? It may be coming sooner than we think, thanks to hormone-disrupting chemicals that are decimating fertility at an alarming rate around the globe.

The quick summary of information:

  • Sperm counts have dropped almost 60% since 1973.

  • And new research says if we continue on this path that sperm counts could drop to zero by 2045. Zero!

  • Laws and regulations for PFAS (and other hormone-disrupting chemicals) are inadequate and vary from country to country, region to region, and, in the United States, state to state.

  • PFAS has been found in every corner of the globe. It is virtually present in the bodies of every human.

PFAS is a problem on closed and active military sites, farms using biosludge, near airports, fire stations, closed landfills, superfund sites… and the list goes on.

Wherever we test for PFAS, we tend to find it, and that’s why it’s so important that we update our laws so that more municipalities are required to test and filter out these dangerous chemicals in our drinking water.

A peer-reviewed study by my friends at Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS chemicals in their drinking water.

Health risks associated with exposure to these chemicals include, “developmental impacts during pregnancy and to infants, cancer, liver damage, harm to the immune system, damage to the thyroid and other effects including changes in cholesterol.”

Lax Water Regulations

Right now, we have no enforceable national drinking water limits for PFAS. Even as communities continue to call attention to the dangers of these chemicals, the EPA has been dragging its feet about regulating these chemicals.

As I wrote in my book, part of that hesitation could stem from the fact that hundreds of sites owned by the Department of Defense are contaminated with these chemicals.

In 2009, the EPA published provisional health advisories for PFOA and PFOS based on the scientific evidence available at that time, which was considered “inconclusive.” The MCL was set at 400 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS.

By May 2016, the EPA significantly lowered the “safe levels” for these pollutants in our water supply, based on standards that assume lifetime exposure. The advisory was set at 70 ppt, creating instant water contamination crises for many cities and towns. And there are still so many places not testing.

Currently, about 24 states are working to develop their own standards for PFAS. For example, Michigan has set standards as low as 8 ppt for PFOA and 16 ppt for PFOS.

The Future

Newly confirmed EPA administrator Michael Regan has indicated in a recent interview that “he will look closely at a ubiquitous class of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, found in communities nationwide and linked to an array of health effects.”

Last month, the EPA took down a toxicity assessment of one of these chemicals from its website, because as Regan said the study was “compromised by political interference.”

Two new laws have been introduced…

The Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), establishes a new program to spend $1 billion in grants for five years so municipalities can implement treatment standards for industrial discharges of PFAS.

The LIFT America Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) establishes a new program, providing $2.5 billion in grants to help community water systems filter PFAS in drinking water.  

We need these bills to pass, along with more health-protective drinking water regulations for PFAS.

Here at The Brockovich Report, we’ve covered the PFAS crisis highlighting a community in Maine and offering some action steps you can take. And we will keep talking about it!

It’s our job to use this platform and community to keep you aware and our hope is that you can spread this message so that we can find more solutions to protect our health and well-being.

What do you think? Questions? Sound off in the comments below.