News Feature | March 18, 2016

Advocates: EPA Gets 'F' On PFOA

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

As Vermont and New York undergo perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) scares, the chemical is grabbing attention from clean-water advocates who want to know why there is no federal drinking water limit on this industrial chemical.

“Prized for its ability to make things super-slick, PFOA was used for decades in the manufacture of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, carpets and the linings of pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags,” the Associated Press recently reported.

“Now, with the suspected cancer-causing chemical PFOA being phased out in the U.S., it is still very much around, turning up in the water in factory towns across the country,” the report said.

Advocates are demanding that the U.S. EPA regulate this chemical. Currently, the federal government considers it an “emerging” threat, meaning it may pose a potential or real threat to public health.

Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, weighed in, per the AP.

“Where is the government that is supposed to protect people and the environment? It’s an outrage,” she said.

Why hasn’t the EPA already acted? The AP explained:

In their defense, EPA officials said that the agency has been considering for years whether regulations are needed for PFOA and related perfluorinated chemicals, but that it is a drawn-out testing and evaluation process dictated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In the meantime, the EPA has taken action around the country to fine companies and force them to clean up such chemicals.

Vermont is one place where PFOA has become an issue.

“Vermont officials testing samples at drinking-water wells in North Bennington, VT, found widespread contamination on properties near a closed chemical plant, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced,” The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

“Of 67 samples taken this month, 52 private wells showed unsafe levels of perfluorooctanoic acid,” the report said, citing state officials.

Hoosick Falls, NY, is undergoing a PFOA threat, as well. Local Teflon manufacturing appears to be the source of the contamination.

“After the revelation of lead contamination in Flint, Mich., where Gov. Rick Snyder’s response was widely criticized, the situation in Hoosick Falls has provoked both deep concern about water quality and a heightened scrutiny of how public officials have responded,” The New York Times reported.

PFOA is a manmade substance, “readily absorbed after oral exposure,” according to the EPA.  It accumulates “primarily in the serum, kidney and liver. Toxicological studies on animals indicate potential developmental, reproductive and systemic effects.” It has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, among other major health problems.

For more PFOA coverage, visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.