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Action on PFAS pollution broadens

Chemours cuts emissions, town’s tainted water traced to paper mill waste, U.S. Congress mulls legislation

by Cheryl Hogue
August 30, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 35


Photo shows a woman's hands holding a paper box designed for Chinese food take-out containing noodles.
Credit: Shutterstock
San Francisco is banning single-use food containers made with PFASs.

Local, state, and federal responses to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) pollution are growing in the U.S. These persistent, synthetic compounds, some of which are linked to cancer and other health problems, are increasingly being detected in drinking water supplies.

Chemours is cutting its air emissions of fluoroethers from its facility in Fayetteville, N.C., the company reported to state regulators recently. At the direction of regulators, Chemours installed carbon adsorption technology in May at two units at the plant. The equipment is capturing about 99% of the emissions of hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid, which is closely related to Chemours’s GenX surfactant. The dimer acid and other PFASs taint the Cape Fear River, residential wells, lakes, rainfall, and sediments in southeastern North Carolina, and some of this contamination was traced to Chemours’s air emissions.

Meanwhile, tap water in Parchment, Mich., was declared safe to drink in late August. Parchment, which was under a state of emergency, stopped drawing from its PFAS-contaminated wells, connected to the nearby Kalamazoo drinking water system, and flushed distribution pipes.

The pollution leached from landfills containing paper mill waste, state officials say. Some paper mills use PFASs to coat paper and make it grease resistant for food use, the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group, says. San Francisco’s mayor has approved a city ordinance that, as of Jan. 1, 2020, will ban single-use food containers made with PFASs.

From the nation’s capital, a new document from EPA’s Office of Research & Development lays out the pros and cons of available technology to filter PFASs out of water. Those methods employ activated carbon adsorption, anion exchange resins, or high-pressure membranes used for nanofiltration or reverse osmosis.

And senators introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 3382) that would direct the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct nationwide sampling of water and soil for PFASs. The bill would allot a total of $45 million from 2019 to 2023 for this work. Congress will hold hearings Sept. 6 and Sept. 26 on PFAS contamination.


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