News Feature | June 26, 2018

Federal Report: PFCs More Dangerous Than Previously Believed

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A federal agency has released a long-awaited report suggesting that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are more dangerous to human health than federal standards currently take into account.

News outlets have reported that the White House and the U.S. EPA previously attempted to bury the report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) because it could cause a “public relations nightmare.” ATSDR is an agency within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Now, a draft of the 800-plus-page draft report has been released and it suggests current federal guidelines on PFCs in water may not be strong enough. The EPA released a health advisory on PFOA and PFOS in 2016, “warning that exposure at levels above 70 parts per trillion could be a health risk,” E&E News reported.

The new report “identifies the levels of the contaminants that a person could safely consume — and its threshold equals only one-tenth of the amount used by the EPA to develop its 2016 guidelines,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In other words, in discussing "minimal risk levels" for oral exposure to PFOS and PFOA, the report argues that these levels are “lower than the threshold currently recommended by the EPA. The EPA's levels are 10 and 6.7 times higher, respectively,” CNN reported.

“That could have implications for the drinking water guidelines, although the numbers used for risk levels and drinking water cannot be directly compared. The ATSDR used more and newer data in its study than the EPA had for its 2016 report,” The Philadelphia Inquirer added.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said at a national PFC summit in May that the agency will review and set limits on PFCs, NPR reported.

“We will take the next step under the Safe Drinking Water Act process to evaluate the need of a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS,” he said. “It’s something that has been talked about for a number of years. The process needs to begin. The determination of an MCL is something that we will begin in earnest.”

Drinking water advocates, meanwhile, have voiced concern that the agency will not be tough enough on these contaminants, CNN reported.

The threat of PFC contamination has become a high-profile issue in the wake of revelations that military bases and factories have contaminated the water supply with these chemicals in various parts of the country, including the Philadelphia suburbs.

“Tens of thousands of people in Horsham, Warminster, and Warrington Townships were among the first to learn that their drinking water was tainted, and scores have reported cases of cancer,” The Inquirer reported.