Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) like PFOA and PFOS have been a part of our environment for decades. They became ubiquitous in consumer goods and, therefore, in our homes, lining microwave popcorn bags and non-stick skillets, keeping hiking gear waterproof, and coating for furniture fabrics. Other industrial uses included wire coatings, the manufacture of sealing devices, and fire suppressing foams. Incredibly, they were almost entirely unregulated before the 21st century, so its no surprise that these manmade chemicals are all around.
While no longer generally used in manufacturing, PFCs persist indefinitely in the environment. Cleaning up exposure sources like contaminated water is virtually impossible, and even if feasuble would not eliminate the risks of these chemicals, which can be passed from mother to child even if the mother is no longer exposed to contamination.
With the recent discovery of communities with stratospherically high exposures to PFCs and concomitant increases in the incidence of diseases including cancer, governments and scientists have been looking more closely at the health effects of these chemicals. In the early 2000s, as a result of litigation, the C8 Science Panel (C8 is another name for PFOA) published a list of cancers probably-linked to PFOA exposure. As more communities discover water supplies contaminated with PFCs, governments are lowering their maximum contaminant limits. New Jersey has established a Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA. Establishing an MCL triggers regulatory obligations and, in the case of PFOA, will require water companies and utilities to monitor routinely and take corrective actions if the levels exceed the MCL. New Jersey’s MCL, adopted at the end of 2017, replaced the state’s previous “guidance” level of 40 parts per trillion. Vermont set its MCL at 20 parts per billion. Pennsylvania has not yet established an MCL, but has agreed to undertake administrative review of whether to do so, and if so at what level. Groups like the Delaware Riverkeeper Network are urging the Commonwealth to adopt a standard between 1 and 6 parts per trillion.
Meanwhile, the EPA has issues only a non-enforceable and non-regulatory Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS of 70 parts per trillion [previously 400 parts per trillion] well above the level many state governments have established as a regulatory benchmark. Politico recently reported that the current administration has sought to block the release of a draft about PFOA and PFOS by the federal agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, apparently because it represented a “public relations nightmare” that would “show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe.”
It’s probably true that such a downward revision of the “safe” level of PFOA would stir up bad PR for the government and corporate polluters. But its important for consumers to be armed with as much knowledge as possible to keep them and their families safe. We hope citizens contact their Congressional representatives to urge them to “liberate” EPA’s report. For more information, call a member of our legal team at Williams Cedar at 215-557-0099 or submit an online inquiry.
By Chris Markos