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Persistent Pollutants

Seeking corporate accountability on PFAS contamination

US lawmaker wants manufacturers to clean up pollution

by Cheryl Hogue
August 1, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 31

 

09731-polcon1-dump.jpg
Credit: Cory Morse/Grand Rapids Press via AP
A 2017 excavation of an old dump in Belmont, Michigan, removed debris that included shoe leather treated with PFAS. The chemicals, used for waterproofing, leached into an aquifer.

The head of a US congressional panel wants companies that manufactured fluorinated chemicals that are tainting hundreds of water supplies to be accountable for cleaning up the pollution.

A July 24 hearing was the second on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) convened this year by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), chair of the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. The first, held in March, focused on the risks posed by PFAS pollution. These chemicals are highly resistant to breakdown in the environment, and exposure to some PFAS is linked to reproductive, developmental, liver, and immunological effects.

Rouda plans a third hearing for Sept. 10 and is asking 3M and DuPont to send representatives to testify. For decades, Americans have been drinking perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which 3M once made, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which 3M and DuPont formerly produced, Rouda said at the July hearing. “It’s time for responsibility to kick in.”

Witnesses at the July hearing included Sandy Wynn-Stelt, who owns a home in Michigan that draws well water from an aquifer polluted by PFAS leaking from a landfill. That dump held waste shoe leather treated with PFAS for waterproofing.

Corporations have profited from the manufacture and use of PFAS for decades, Wynn-Stelt said. “Taxpayers in no way should be burdened” with the cost of remediation, she said, adding that her blood has tested as having as high as 5 ppm of these compounds. The Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for drinking water for PFOS and PFOA, individually or together, is 70 parts per trillion.

Emily Donovan’s family of four in North Carolina gets water from a public water supply tainted with a suite of PFAS, including some that regulators have yet to identify.

Regulating these chemicals one by one as contaminants in drinking water “will guarantee I’m paying for the cleanup” of the cocktail of many PFAS from the local water supply, Donovan said at the hearing. PFAS should be regulated as a class, she said.

UPDATE:

This story was originally posted on July 25, 2019. It was revised for clarity on Aug. 1, 2019.

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