WASHINGTON, D.C.-(WTAP, Associated Press) - Updated: 6/20/2019
A bipartisan measure aimed at setting new standards for PFAS chemicals has been passed by a U.S. Senate committee.
The amendment, supported by more than 30 U.S. Senators, is part of a defense bill approved Wednesday by a Senate committee.
It also directs the federal EPA to set rules limiting uses of the chemical class that includes C8.
West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, one of the bill's sponsors, acknowledges while the bill is not just about C8, she adds the nearly 20 year controversy surrounding the chemical locally inspired it.
"What, unfortunately, has happened in Parkersburg over two decades has taught lessons learned," Capito said Wednesday, "and we need to make sure we're aggressive here, with the expanded family of PFAS chemicals here, to make sure we're helping our local water systems be able to test, and we're remediating when we need to."
The Defense Authorization Act, which includes the PFAS amendment, requires the military to phase out the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam by 2023.
The measure, however, has been criticized by environmental groups for not designating PFAS as a hazardous chemical.
Congressional hearings were held Wednesday on legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
The measure would require the U.S. EPA to set minimum standards on PFAS contamination in drinking water.
Both Capito and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio spoke on the issue Thursday.
Capito says her measures are about testing and cleanup as well as regulation.
Brown said the legislation is long overdue.
"We are pushing the EPA to come up with a more extensive protocol to test for these chemicals, to remediate for the chemicals, and to discover where they are that they might not have been detected yet," Capito says.
"The companies knew what they were putting out there," said Brown. "We have to get involved quickly and do a cleanup, and support people who, in some ways, might have had their health compromised by this."
The PFAS chemicals include those used by local manufacturers DuPont and Chemours in the manufacture of non-stick surfaces. C8 was the subject of years of lawsuits and court cases.
Capito and Brown disagreed on the Trump Administration's role in the process.
Capito said the administration has begun to take steps on cleanup and remediation, especially in Martinsburg, where it was found in water supplies.
Brown said the administration's policies favor large corporations.
Environmentalists say a bill requiring the EPA to set a legal limit for PFAS chemicals is long overdue.
A member of the Environmental Working Group Thursday commented on a measure introduced Wednesday by two U.S. senators, including West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito.
Similar legislation recently was introduced in the House of Representatives.
Current science points to a maximum PFAS level of one part per trillion.
"Though EPA, when they're setting what is called a maximum contaminant level, will also set a maximum contaminant level goal," says EWS Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. "And whenever there is evidence a chemical causes cancer, EPA usually sets that goal at zero. So that may be why a number of groups say that goal should be zero, which we would support."
Two members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee-one of them from West Virginia-have introduced legislation requiring the EPA to establish an enforceable standard for PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Wednesday introduced the Protect Drinking Water from PFAS Act of 2019.
Senator Capito said. “By requiring EPA to set a national drinking water standard for PFAS, we can ensure West Virginians and others can have faith in their access to safe, clean drinking water and help protect the health and wellbeing of Americans across the country.”
Sen. Gillibrand, a Democratic presidential candidate, was more critical in her comments.
“It is the EPA’s job to protect Americans from highly toxic chemicals like PFAS, but they have failed to do what is necessary to help ensure our families in New York and across the country are no longer exposed to dangerous levels of PFAS in their drinking water,” Senator Gillibrand said.
PFAS have been linked to cancers and other serious health and developmental effects. A new report shows potentially 19 million Americans are using public water systems exposed to PFAS contamination. However, no regulatory standards currently exist to protect from this health hazard.
Three weeks after the federal EPA announced an action plan on perflorinated chemicals, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are seeking action on their own.
Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, and Sherrod Brown from Ohio, introduced a bill directing the U.S. EPA to declare PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.
The designation would come under the federal Superfund law.
Sen. Manchin released a statement Monday criticizing the EPA for not taking immediate action on the issue.
"It is the obligation of the EPA and our government to ensure that the public has as many resources and as much information as possible," Manchin said. "While I am disappointed that Administrator Wheeler has not taken more action to address this issue, I’m glad to introduce this legislation to make sure the PFAS is properly labeled as a hazardous substance and subject to CERCLA authority from now on.”
A local activist told us recently the latest activity on the issue is long overdue.
"People are sick; people are scared to death of this stuff," said Wood County resident Joe Kiger, a litigant in a 2001 lawsuit filed over then-DuPont Washington Works use of C8. "And they want something done now; not in a year, not in two years. They're wanting something done now in the valley.">
Sen. Brown says the Superfund designation would allow federal funds to be used for cleanup of groundwater contamination from PFAS chemicals.
Similar legislation had already been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Chemours issued a statement Thursday afternoon on the EPA's Action Plan on PFAS, announced Thursday morning:
"Chemours is committed to taking a leadership role in environmental stewardship and supports the development of a science and risk-based approach to establish standards and guidelines for PFAS compounds. We believe collaboration and transparency are critical to achieving this.
Chemours does not use PFOA, PFOS or C8 in any of its manufacturing processes. In fact, no Chemours plant site had ever used PFOS in its manufacturing processes, and all Chemours plant sites had ceased using PFOA at least two years before the company was established.
Chemours has been significantly investing in emission control technologies at our fluoroproducts sites and has previously announced our global corporate responsibility goal to reduce air and water emission of fluorinated organic chemicals by 99% or greater. We have also collaborated with university researchers and commercial laboratories to synthesize over ten authentic reference standards and create analytical methods for PFAS byproducts, as no commercially available analytical standards or methods were available for determining concentration of these compounds. "
We are reviewing the EPA PFAS Action Plan in greater detail to determine how best we can contribute to the effort based on our significant expertise in developing analytical methods, conducting air and water sampling and identifying effective treatment technologies.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on the Environmental Protection Agency's plan for dealing with long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS (all times local):
Environmental groups are criticizing the Trump administration's plan for dealing with highly toxic chemicals in drinking water, saying it's too little and too slow.
Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter says it's a "non-action plan designed to delay effective regulation" of the chemicals known collectively as PFAS, which are found in nonstick pans and other household items.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday in Philadelphia announced its "action plan" for dealing with PFAS in drinking water. The EPA calls the plan "comprehensive" and says it includes short- and long-term actions.
But the Sierra Club environmental organization says it will take years to carry the actions out.
Environment America clean-water advocate Bart Johnsen-Harris says the EPA plan lacks a clear, health-based limit on PFAS compounds in water supplies.
The National Ground Water Association industry group says the plan is an important step toward providing leadership on PFAS.
The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee says a plan outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency is only a first step toward protecting the public from highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.
GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming says the panel will conduct a hearing this spring on the blueprint announced Thursday by Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Barrasso says the agency must "speak clearly" about risks posed by a class of chemicals known as PFAS and must be willing to take "decisive action" where warranted.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire says the plan "falls short of delivering the certainty" that people exposed to PFAS contamination deserve. She says it lacks a commitment to develop enforceable drinking water standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it will move ahead this year with a process that could lead to setting a safety threshold for a group of highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it will move ahead this year with a process that could lead to setting a safety threshold for a group of highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Thursday in Philadelphia was announcing the agency's first nationwide plan for dealing with long-lasting contaminants known as PFAS.
The contaminants have been detected in many public drinking water systems and private wells around the country. The chemicals are used in firefighting foam and a variety of nonstick, water-repellent products.
Wheeler is proposing "a regulatory determination" for two common forms of the compounds. That's a first step toward a threshold at which treatment to remove the contaminants would be required.
The U.S. EPA issues what it calls an "Action Plan" for control of chemicals, including one that's been a concern to this area for nearly two decades.
The five-step plan includes proposal of a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFO chemicals by the end of 2019.
Also included: coordination on enforcement actions, with the help of the U.S. Department of Defense, expansion of monitoring for PFAS, including in drinking and groundwater, as well as expansion of research efforts, which include the effects of GenX.
Finally, development of a plan to explain the risks of PFAS to the general public.
An environmental expert says there is little that's new about the action plan.
"Really, it's no action," says Dr. David Andrews, Senior Scientist with the Environmental Working Group. "It's just a continuation of what (former EPA administrator) Scott Pruitt announced a year ago, but no clear actions that are going to protect health. That's what Americans really need and deserve at this point."
Dr. Andrews says the Maximum Contaminant Level for C8 in drinking water supplies should be reduced to .01 parts per billion. It is now at .07 ppb.
An announcement Thursday is expected to outline what the U.S. EPA plans to do about the group of chemicals that include C8.
At a news conference Thursday, the agency's national and regional administrators are set to announce a plan of action on perflourinated substances.
A statement from the EPA says it will address the "maximum contaminant level" process, monitoring, research and a clean-up strategy.
When notified of the pending announcement, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), said those issues should have been addressed long ago.
"Safe and clean drinking water is an absolute requirement for our country; we shouldn't even be having these questions," Capito said Wednesday afternoon. "So I look forward to seeing what the EPA comes up with, and it's way overdue."
C8, in particular, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and legal cases.
DuPont Washington Works, now known as Chemours, used it to make non-stick coatings.
It was discontinued several years ago, but the replacement for C8 has also been the subject of concerns about its safety.
We'll have more on the EPA's announcement and reaction Thursday.
Concern over perflourinated chemicals, and their effects, is increasingly becoming a national issue.
"If you can't give your child a glass of water without the risk of getting them sick, if you can't fish the rivers your grandfather fished, or eat the venison that forage around that river, that is a threat to your way of life," Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D- Michigan) said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
"Bring the PFAS into the open, assess it, fund it, and eliminate it," noted Michigan Republican Jack Bergman.
A bi-partisan group of federal lawmakers announced formation of a task force to study and develop policy to regulate what are now the second generation of fluorinated chemicals.
Also a concern: persuading the EPA to set what is called an "enforceable standard" for safe levels of those chemicals.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito says she agrees, adding she has called on the EPA for transparency on the issue.
"And to make sure whatever is considered an acceptable level, that we in West Virginia have the tools to make sure our water meets those standards."
"Last Congress, I participated in hearings at the Energy and Commerce Committee that looked into the technical and economic barriers that communities face when dealing with PFOA and PFOS contamination," said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH 6h District) in a statement Thursday, "and discussed ways to improve how federal agencies and relevant stakeholders can work together to prevent unhealthy exposures. I hope this task force continues that work, and that it becomes a reliable source of information for folks dealing with these issues along the Ohio River and throughout our state."
The concern goes beyond C8, used for years at what is now Chemours Washington Works.
The Environmental Working Group, an organization also interested in the issue, believes more people than reported are affected by the chemicals.
"We think that number is closer to 110 million Americans that have some kind of PFAS chemical in their drinking water," says Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney for the EWG. "It does go beyond the C8 or PFOS from the first generation of these chemicals."
Chemours Thursday issued a statement on the formation of the task force.
"The category often called PFAS is very broad and covers more than 3,500 fluorinated compounds. Last year Chemours announced new Corporate Responsibility Goals which include our commitment to reduce all PFAS emissions worldwide at least 99% by 2030."
UPDATE: 06/21/18 8:45 A.M.
A bombshell federal report raises new questions about the safety of your drinking water.
Turn on your faucet, and in many parts of the country, you could be exposed to a family of dangerous chemicals. Known collectively as PFAS and largely the byproduct of Teflon manufacturing and a foam used to fight jet fuel fires, they contaminate water sources from the East Coast to Alaska.
Prolonged exposure carries the risk of cancer and other health problems. And now, scientists with the Environmental Working Group said a new federal report released Wednesday suggests safe levels may be 10 times lower than current Environmental Protection Agency standards.
West Virginia lawmakers from both sides of the aisle recently demanded the study's release after media reports surfaced indicating the White House tried to bury it.
"I'm glad it's out in the open," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., "we can diagnose it, and hopefully make sure that we're preventing any kind of health incidences from too much of this chemical in the water."
Capito said she needs to dig deeper into the report before demanding action.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said if his team reaches the same conclusion as environmental watchdogs, and the Trump administration won't reconsider what's safe, Congress will.
"We've got to make sure that the human aspect of this, safety to all humans is the first and foremost thing in consideration," he said.
Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., represents northern West Virginia in Congress.
Asked about the suggestion that this family of chemicals could be toxic at levels 10 times lower than current standards, he said he hasn't read the full 852-page report yet, but made his skepticism clear.
Just over a year ago, the company that took over the former DuPont facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia settled lawsuits with near-by affected residents for more than $650-million. A study surrounding that case figured significantly in the report written by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The safety levels in this report are designed to guide health professionals and not to "support regulatory action." But, Congress or the White House could use it as a guide rewrite the requirements for testing drinking water, and cleaning up contamination when it's found.
A report on the effects of C8 and related chemicals, released Wednesday at the urging of federal lawmakers, references, among others, a study done of local residents nearly a decade ago.
It included the findings of the C8 Science Panel between 2007-2012, that PFOA, or C8, along with PFOS, is tied to liver damage, increases in cholesterol levels, thyroid disease and an increased risk of fertility declines.
The report, by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control, also includes similar findings, including decreased antibody response to vaccines, for a number of related chemicals.
And it noted data from a recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which concluded that PFOA and PFOS probably causes cancer in humans.
In essence, the report is a summary of several studies that have been made locally and in other parts of the country, on the effects of perflourinated chemicals during the past decade.
One other notable finding is that the serum levels of PFOA and PFOS in people tested have declined dramatically since 2000.
It says that's a reflection of the decreased use of those chemicals in manufacturing during that time.
Dr. Paul Brooks, who oversaw testing for the Science Panel's studies, said he had not seen the report when contacted Wednesday afternoon.
There had been no reaction as of Wednesday from Chemours, which now operates the unit where C8 was used by DuPont Washington Works in the manufacture of non-stick products such as Teflon.
An environmental group says the report shows the minimum risk level for C8/PFOA should be reduced substantially from .07 parts per billion, a level set by the U.S. EPA just two years ago.
“This study confirms that the EPA’s guidelines for PFAS levels in drinking water woefully underestimate risks to human health,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., senior science advisor at the Environmental Working Group. “We urge EPA to collect and publish all water results showing PFAS contamination at any level, so Americans across the country can take immediate steps to protect themselves and their families.”
UPDATE: 6/20/2018, 12:49 P.M.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a federal study on drinking water contamination in the U.S. caused by Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), including substances like C8, once produced at DuPont Washington Works, and still known to be present in the Ohio River.
The entire 852-page report, titled "Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls," can be viewed in a .PDF document in the "Related Links" section of this story.
Ohio's two U.S. Senators have joined those from West Virginia in calling for the release of a study on perflourinated chemicals.
A letter signed by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, along with Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, voices concern the EPA has reportedly tried to block the report's release.
All four joined Senators from other states in signing a letter addressed to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Dept. of Health And Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
The letter cites recent media reports saying the report states exposure to levels of PFAS chemicals lower than previously known pose a health risk.
The chemical family known as PFAS includes substances such as C8, once produced at DuPont Washington Works, and still known to be present in the Ohio River.
West Virginia's senators are calling on the Trump administration to release a study on toxic chemicals that DuPont used to make Teflon and other non-stick products at a factory in the state.
A Politico article this week says the government is block the study because it would be a "public relations nightmare." DuPont is already facing thousands of lawsuits from people living near the company's Washington Works plant near Parkersburg.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that the study by the Department of Health and Human Services suggests humans can be harmed by much lower levels of PFAS than the EPA has advised before.
Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito are pressing Trump cabinet members to release the data.