Originally posted on MLive by Garret Ellison on July 17, 2018.
A bipartisan group of Congressional delegates from Michigan and Pennsylvania want the Environmental Protection Agency to “immediately” revise and broaden its health guidance for PFAS chemicals and incorporate new a toxicological study that significantly lowers levels at which exposure is considered safe.
In a July 17 letter to new EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, three Republicans and four Democrats in Congress urge the agency to “act immediately to adjust the health advisory levels for PFOS and PFOA,” two of numerous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are contaminating U.S. drinking water supplies.
EPA should also create other PFAS chemical advisories, they wrote.
Democrats on the letter include U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; and Brendan Boyle, D-Pennsylvania.
Republicans on the letter include U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania.
The letter notes that the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOA in drinking water is potentially 7 to 10 times higher than what a draft report from the toxicological arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies as minimum risk levels (MRLs) for exposure to the two chemicals.
The report, released June 20 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), called the adequacy of EPA’s unenforceable health guidance on PFAS exposure into question and generated substantial attention after it was dubbed a “public relations nightmare” in private White House emails obtained this spring through a public records request.
The ATDSR recommends MRLs translating to 7-ppt for PFOS and 11-ppt for PFOA, as well as two other PFAS compounds: 10.5-ppt for PFNA and 70-ppt for PFHxS. The agency uses MRLs as a screening tool to assess whether exposures at a given contaminated site represent a potential health hazard. They are not enforceable regulatory standards.
According to report, exposure to PFOS and PFOA above the MRLs might be associated with pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia, liver damage, increases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, increased risk of thyroid disease, decreased antibody response to vaccines, increased risk of decreased fertility and decreases in birth weight.
“While critical scientific inputs on PFAS are missing, the information that is currently out there is raising many public questions,” the letter reads. “The EPA should move quickly to make appropriate changes to the existing drinking water health advisories that effectively communicate and explain risks to the public, as well as provide tools for adequate protection from exposure to these chemicals.”
Advocates for stronger controls on PFAS have used the ATSDR report as a rallying cry for strict enforceable standards in drinking water, something the EPA lacks but which the agency says it’s working toward after a national summit in Washington DC in May.
Because any enforceable national standards could take years to pass unless they are set by Congress, some states have forged ahead with setting their own PFAS standards for drinking water and environmental cleanup. In April, New York announced it will start requiring contaminated site owners to test for PFAS. New Jersey is in the final stages of adopting formal standards for PFOS, PFOA and PFNA in drinking water of 13, 14 and 13-ppt, respectively.
Citing the new ATSDR report, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommended in June that the state set interim standards to match New Jersey’s.
In January, Michigan formally adopted the EPA’s 70-ppt recommendation as an enforceable cleanup criteria for groundwater that people drink from, but has not moved toward any formal or interim standards in public supply drinking water.
Michigan officials want to follow a national standard.
“We’d like the EPA to produce a standard pending the review of the 850-page ATSDR study that was finally released and still open for comment,” said Scott Dean, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson.
“We’d rather not see a patchwork of state standards.”
Michigan is grappling with PFAS contamination at an ever-growing list of sites with drinking water contamination. Notable examples include the Wolverine World Wide tannery waste dump sites in Kent County and the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base area in Oscoda.
Michigan’s next water crisis is PFAS and you may already be affected