Posted by Neno Duplan
Officials in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York are expanding their efforts to find out how much of a potentially toxic chemical ended up in drinking water, from private wells to public water systems.
Factories for decades used the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, as a plastic coating and to make consumer products such as Teflon nonstick pans, waterproof jackets and pizza boxes. PFOA, which is highly resistant to water, solvents and acids, was invented in the 1940s. EPA officials assume its use in manufacturing has been widespread, and traces of the chemical have been found throughout most of the country and in many people’s blood.
Public concern over PFOA has spread through upstate New York and New England since August 2014. In March, roughly 200 people crowded into a high school auditorium in Litchfield, N.H., to hear from New Hampshire environmental officials. Attendees voiced concerns about PFOA’s possible effects on children, pets and garden produce.
The worry stems from a Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. plant near Merrimack, which New Hampshire officials are investigating as a possible source of PFOA contamination. The state in March sampled PFOA levels up to 620 parts per trillion in private Litchfield wells, well above the 100-parts-per-trillion level at which New Hampshire officials start to consider the amount unsafe. Tests in Merrimack measured as high as 1,600 parts per trillion.
New Hampshire officials have expanded testing of water samples near the plant and announced that they plan to test soil at nearby sites like schools and playgrounds.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t declared PFOA harmful to humans, but it has raised concerns about the safety of the chemical in drinking water.
The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group that assesses chemicals in consumer products and the environment, sent a letter to EPA urging the agency to set an enforceable drinking water standard for the chemical, and to force former manufacturers to disclose all sites in the U.S.
New York state in February committed at least $10 million to clean up PFOA from drinking water in Hoosick Falls and in January declared PFOA a “hazardous substance.” New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation began conducting a statewide investigation to see if contamination extends beyond Hoosick Falls.
Researchers have found high concentrations in drinking water near factories in states that include West Virginia.
In the meantime, Vermont officials are testing the water after finding problems in two communities. Vermont authorities have set a maximum drinking water limit of 20 parts per trillion. The EPA plans to issue permanent health advisory limits sometime this year.