News Feature | November 14, 2016

Federal PFOA Limit Panned By State Scientists

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Public officials at the federal and state level appear increasingly far from a consensus on safe levels of perfluorinated acid (PFOA) in drinking water.

That is perhaps most apparent in the standoff between New Jersey drinking water regulators and federal scientists.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Drinking Water Quality Institute recently unveiled details on its PFOA outlook in a PowerPoint. The institute is a state-appointed group of researchers that makes recommendations for water contaminant limits in New Jersey.

The PowerPoint panned the 70 ppt advisory limit for PFOA set by the U.S. EPA, according to The Intelligencer.

“It cannot be concluded that exposure to (70 ppt) is protective of the most sensitive populations with a margin of exposure,” the PowerPoint said.

Here’s what that means, per The Intelligencer: “The amount of PFOA the EPA says is safe for millions of Americans to consume in drinking water actually is not, according to the institute.”

“If the institute is correct, the implications are massive. PFOA and PFOS have been found in the drinking water supplies upon which millions of Americans rely,” the report continued.

“If the institute's criticism is correct, it would mean the EPA’s 70-ppt level is five times less protective of cancer risks than typical standards call for,” it said.

“Through a review of available research, the New Jersey water institute determined that drinking water contaminated with PFOA will lead to anywhere from a 100- to 200-fold increase of the chemical in human blood, depending on the exact study and how much water an individual consumed on a regular basis. In other words, drinking water with 10 ppt, after some period in time, would lead to at least 1,000 ppt in a human's blood,” it continued.

The Institute offered a critique of the EPA limit, per the report:

  • The EPA didn't account for possible health effects — such as liver toxicity, delayed development and decreased immune response — that may occur at low levels of exposure.
  • The EPA underestimated the cancer risk of the chemical.
  • The EPA's advisory doesn't adequately protect women who plan to become pregnant.
  • The EPA came to illogical scientific conclusions during its development of the 70-ppt advisory.

The New Jersey scientists recently proposed a 14 ppt limit for PFOA, following a decade of research on the contaminant, The Intelligencer previously reported. Vermont has a 20 ppt standard.

New Jersey scientists are not alone in questioning the federal approach to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). In a letter sent in August, “a pair of officials appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused the EPA of causing confusion in its guidances regarding PFOA, which has been found in elevated levels in the Hoosick Falls drinking water and has been linked to cancer and other serious illnesses,” The Hill reported.

The EPA issued a   in May about PFC exposure as various cities wage high-profile battles against the compounds. The EPA links high levels of PFC exposure “to low birth weights, forms of cancer and other health problems,” Colorado Public Radio reported.

For more on PFC issues visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.