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EPA announces updated health advisories for PFAS chemicals

EPA announces updated health advisories for PFAS chemicals
Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 4:53 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new drinking water health advisories Wednesday for PFAS chemicals, including GenX.

For GenX, the EPA set a final lifetime health advisory level of 10 parts per trillion (ppt), which would replace North Carolina’s provisional drinking water health goal of 140 ppt developed by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) in 2018.

“The health advisories are really scientific documents that describe the health effects from a lifetime of exposure to those four chemicals,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox.

For PFOA and PFAS, the EPA issued interim updated health advisories of 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS, with a minimum reporting level of 4 ppt. These interim advisories replace the 2016 provisional health advisory of 70 ppt for both compounds.

“Now we’re moving toward a standard that we know what level that we need to have for the long term safety of people,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

Emily Donovan with Clean Cape Fear heard the announcement at Wednesday’s National PFAS conference in Wilmington.

“Pretty amazing,” said Donovan. “It took decades to get PFOA and PFOS health advisories. So to have GenX in five years, we’re building on a lot of momentum. I’m seeing it at the state and federal level and I’m really grateful for that work.”

Still, Donovan says there is more work to do to make sure the Cape Fear region has clean and safe drinking water.

“I think the EPA is on the right track,” said Donovan. “But I do think that we need to continue to push the EPA to do a class approach and create some sort of advisory, definitely enforceable standard like a maximum continual level, a drinking water standard for the total class a PFAS.”

Fox says the EPA does plan to propose an enforceable standard for these forever chemicals in drinking water soon.

Meanwhile, work continues at CFPUA’s Sweeny Water Treatment Plant. The goal is to have new filtration systems up and running by later this year to reduce GenX levels to near-non-detection.

“We felt, from a public health perspective, it was important that we fund and construct these facilities and get them to operate and remove the PFAS, said CFPUA Deputy Executive Director Carl Vandermeyden. “And then, on a parallel path, go through the legal process to ultimately hold the polluter accountable.”

As of right now, CFPUA customers will bear the cost of the new water treatment programs, but both lawsuits and legislation are moving forward to have Chemours, the company responsible for GenX pollution in the Cape Fear River.

In response to the EPA’s announcement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Chemours said:

At Chemours, we support government regulation based on the best available science. While the EPA claims it followed the best available science in its nationwide health advisory on HFPO-Dimer Acid (“HFPO-DA”), that is not the case. Nationally recognized toxicologists and other leading scientific experts across a range of disciplines have evaluated the EPA’s underlying analysis and concluded that it is fundamentally flawed. The agency disregarded relevant data and issued a health advisory contrary to the agency’s own standards and this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity. Chemours uses HFPO-DA and its ammonium salt as a polymerization aid to manufacture high-performance fluoropolymers; it is not a commercial product. We are already using state-of-the-art technologies at our sites to abate emissions and remediate historical releases. We are evaluating our next steps, including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action.”

Also in response to the EPA’s announcement, the NCDEQ and the NCDHHS provided an update and emphasized what the agencies will prioritize to protect the public’s health.

“I’m glad to see the EPA move forward with new PFAS drinking water health advisories so we can achieve progress on cleaning up the contamination entering our source waters,” said Representative David Rouzer.

Public Health officials also released the following two examples as ways to reduce exposure to PFOA and PFOS compounds:

  • If you live near known sources of PFAS contamination or your drinking water contains PFAS above the EPA health advisory levels, you may want to use a different water source or filter your water before drinking, cooking, and preparing infant formula. Learn more about private testing and filtration options here (Note: boiling water does not remove PFAS).
  • Reduce your use of products containing PFAS (packaged foods, products with non-stick or stain resistant coatings, and some personal care products). If you have questions about the products you use in your home, contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at (800) 638-2772.
  • The EPA will be hosting a webinar at 12 p.m. on Thursday, June 23 to provide the public with more information about the updated health advisories and related actions. You can learn more or register for the event here.

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