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Military Bases Have High Concentrations of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Military Bases Have High Concentrations of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

***Updated 8/29/18 to include video***

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) have been receiving a ton of media attention throughout this past year. PFAS are a category of toxic contaminants that have invaded public and private drinking water systems across the entire country. Military bases are extremely susceptible to this type of contamination because of necessary on-base activities. If you would like to learn more about what PFAS are, their health effects, and if they're regulated, please click here. 

Why Do Military Bases Have High Concentrations of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

Military bases have historically had issues with pollution, due to the nature of on-base activities. Municipal fire departments also travel to nearby military bases because they provide an open, secure area to train. So not only are military personnel being directly exposed to PFAS, but so are local fire departments. The Department of Defence isn’t necessarily to blame for the high rates of contamination on military bases. The Manufacturers of PFAS-containing fire fighting foam who actively sell to the DOD are greatly at fault. Because there is no effective alternative on the market, the military has no choice but to continue purchasing and using these products. Unlike many other countries, the United States doesn’t use the precautionary principle in chemical manufacturing. This means that chemicals are introduced to the market before toxicological due diligence is completed. Most of the time it takes someone getting extremely sick for manufacturers to even begin to pay attention.

More often than not, military bases have their own underground private wells that provide drinking water to families living on base, rather than being apart of a public drinking water system. Fire fighting foam can either directly percolate into soil, or run off into surrounding surface water sources. Water from contaminated soil naturally recharges on-base drinking water wells, which families consume on a daily basis.

What Is The Department of Defense Doing About Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) on Military Bases?

The most recent data provided by the DOD stated that 99% people receiving non-DOD-treated water were served by systems with no violations, whereas only 89% of people receiving DOD-treated water were served by systems with no violations. It’s important to note that these data are from bases that voluntarily tested for PFAS, but they do however reiterate that military bases have higher concentrations of this contaminant than other areas in the country. In October of 2017, the US Government Accountability Office reported that the Department of Defense has taken action on PFAS. DOD has directly shut down wells or provided filtration to 11 military installations. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but there are over 400 military bases in the United States that are still contaminated. Approximately 3 million people in the US drink water provided by the DOD. Not only are active military personnel at risk, husbands, wives and children and are being adversely impacted by PFAS. Again, manufacturers of these dangerous chemicals are mostly to blame for such high concentrations of PFAS contamination in drinking water.

What Are Public Officials Doing About Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)?

EPA set a Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 70 parts per trillion for both PFOA and PFOS. The rule of thumb for PFAS is that the sum of the category of contaminants should be no higher than 70 parts per trillion. ATSDR believes this level should be reduced to 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. Again, Lifetime Health Advisory Levels and Minimum Risk Levels are non-enforceable limits that municipalities are not required to follow. DOD has not developed their own standard for PFAS in drinking water and therefore follow the non-enforceable national level of 70 parts per trillion. DOD is not at all incentivized to create a standard or even test for PFAS, because of the outrageous mitigation expenses.

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Breaking: ATSDR Releases Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances

Breaking: ATSDR Releases Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances

Analies Dyjak | Policy Nerd   

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) just released a draft toxicological profile for Perfluoroalkyl Substances such as PFOA and PFOS. This category of emerging contaminants have flooded news headlines this past year, even though they've been persistent in the environment since the 1950’s. PFOA and PFOS are ingredients used in the production of non-stick materials like Scotchgaurd, Teflon, and firefighting foam. The risk to human health is "unknown" but exposure has been linked to various types of cancer, developmental issues, and preeclampsia in laboratory animals. 

June 20, 2018 ATSDR Toxicological Study for Perfluoroalkyls 

Municipalities across the country have been demanding that government agencies expedite toxicological reports for this dangerous class of contaminants. Wilmington, North Carolina and several Michigan municipalities are just some of the locations that have been severely impacted by perfluoroalkyl contamination. Unfortunately, GenX, the most popular PFAS was not included in this particular toxicity study. This toxicological profile included provisional Minimal Risk Levels for both PFOA and PFOS. A Minimal Risk Level (MRL) is a non-enforceable standard, similar to an EPA health advisory level. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommended reducing EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory from 70 parts per trillion to 20 parts per trillion for drinking water. This means municipalities across the country may be in exceedance with this new health recommendation, so people should stay current with public notices in their area. 

Are Perfluoroalkyls Now Regulated? 

It’s important to note that this toxicity study does not mean that PFOA and PFOS contaminants are now regulated. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry can only make recommendations and provide scientific data regarding this class of contaminants. It’s now up to regulatory agencies to comb through these data and make decisions to ensure that public health is protected. The regulatory process in this country, especially for toxic substances, can take upwards of decades. A regulation proposed by EPA or CDC could take years to draft and even longer before it’s enforceable.

Our Water Nerds are working around the clock to help make sense of this 852 page document. We’ll be reviewing the document and providing information on our Youtube, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Make sure to subscribe and follow Water Nerd TV on Facebook to stay up to date!

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GenX Discharge Into The Cape Fear River:  Breaking Down the Chemours NPDES Permit

GenX Discharge Into The Cape Fear River: Breaking Down the Chemours NPDES Permit

Analies Dyjak | Policy Analyst

In last weeks blog post, we discussed what a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit should look like. This article discusses the major problems with the 2015 Chemours-Fayetteville NPDES permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.  

History Of PFAS Discharge By Dupont/Chemours

In 2015, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued a renewal NPDES permit to the Chemours manufacturing plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Prior to the media spotlight of GenX in the Cape Fear River in the summer of 2017, Chemours (and Dupont) had been receiving permit renewals since the plant was built in the 1970’s. This particular Chemours plant had been illegally discharging PFAS compounds for years. Similar compounds were not listed or identified in the NPDES permit, which immediately raised a red flag. Our team has taken the time to analyze each section of this 2015 NPDES permit renewal.

Problems With The 2015 Chemours Renewal Permit

Units:

First off, there are no units next to the values in the table. The 2015 NPDES permit almost completely lacked uniformity among units. The reader needs to clearly identify if allowable discharge is in mg/kg/day (parts per million), ug/kg/day (parts per billion), and so on. However, Chemours used “pounds per day” which isn’t constant with the EPA's normal standards of mg/kg/day or ppm. As we discussed in the overview of NPDES permit article, when a permitting agency fails to include units/dosage, they are allowing chemical discharge at any concentration, so long as the total mass does not exceed the stated value.  In doing so, they opened up the door for the permit holder to coordinate discharge schedules with their sampling.  More on this below.

Sampling:

The second issue is sampling. Chemours mainly used a grab sampling technique to test the surrounding Cape Fear water quality. Grab sampling is a daily one-time collection of water at any given location. This means that Chemours was able to determine the location and time for collecting a sample. As you can probably infer, this would allow Chemours to collect their daily grab sample as far away from the point of discharge as possible.  Additionally, this sampling method allows Chemours to collect samples at a time when operation was halted or during a low-discharge period.  Either of these sampling tricks could skew concentration levels and water quality being sent to the EPA.

No Plan To Reduce Discharge:

Finally, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System was created to help reduce pollution in US waterways. Permitting agencies should include a plan on how they’re working to reduce chemical discharge in their NPDES permit.

Summary

The Chemours NPDES permit is one of many inadequate documents distributed by state governments. Although it’s easy to blame the permitting agency, it’s really the fault of the federal government for not supplying an improved uniform template. Federal and state governments should demand more stringent practices from polluters in terms of allowable limits, uniformity in terms of units, and consistent, thorough, sampling techniques.

Although this particular permit seems is inadequate, there are hundreds of active permits in the US that are much worse.  In future articles, we'll be shining some light onto these permits as well.

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Recap of January 25, 2017 H2GO Town Hall Meeting/Expert Panel

Analies Dyjak, Hydroviv Policy Analyst. 

This past Thursday, January 25th, H2GO and a local news agency hosted an informative meeting to update the public on the GenX crisis that’s unfolding in Brunswick County, North Carolina. The forum consisted of 3 scientists, 2 representatives from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), local utility providers, and a packed audience of concerned citizens. The mission of the meeting was to communicate to residents any recent actions and discoveries in this public health debacle.

Meeting Topic:  Growing Concern About Other PFASs

The public forum made it clear that the scientists and Brunswick County residents are becoming more and more concerned with other perfluroalkyl and polyfluroalkyl subscances (PFASs) that are also present in the Cape Fear River. The scientists concluded that they know even less about these contaminants, which is troubling considering how little is known about GenX.

Our Take:  While the presence of other PFASs are new to the nationwide press, they are not new to the scientific community.  Dr. Knappe's work has been going on for quite some time, and is highly-respected by the environmental science community (including our science team).  It's likely that GenX captured more attention than many other chemicals because it has an ominous (but easy to pronounce) nickname. 

Meeting Topic: Comments From State Regulatory Agencies

A representative from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) shared the three requests made by the Governor to the Environmental Protection Agency; expedite water quality data on GenX, expedite the risk assessment so that national and state standards could be set, and review the consent order under the Toxic Substance Control Act

Our Take On This:  This feels a bit like grandstanding, becasue there are thousands of unregulated contaminants that are currently “in review” by the EPA, and the Clean Water Act only allows a MAXIMUM of 30 unregulated contaminants to be monitored in drinking water every 5 year period.  The timescales for progress in these types of things are measured in decades, not months.  For reference, chromium 6, whose toxicity and occurrence in US drinking water systems has been established for decades, is still not regulated.  This is despite being the fact that it was made famous by the Erin Brockovich Movie (released in 2000).

 

What Is Hydroviv Doing To Help Remediate Perfluorinated Compounds (Including GenX) In Drinking Water?

As a company, we're not really in a position to push for long-term regulatory changes, but we have heavily invested in a rapid R&D program to develop a water filter that is optimized for GenX removal.  Unlike reverse osmosis filters, our system does not require the user to drill a hole in their drain pipe or countertop, so our water filters can be used by homeowners and renters alike. 

Of course, our Water Nerds are also standing by to answer questions about GenX, PFASs, regulatory policy.... even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our filters.  Open a chat line on our homepage with one of our Water Nerds or send us an email at hello@hydroviv.com.

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GenX Contamination In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know

Updated November 18, 2017 to include water filter performance data, on May 15, 2018 to include video, and June 22, 2018 to reflect a new toxicological profile that was generated by CDC.
 

There has been some major news coverage about "GenX" and other pre GenX perfluoroalkyl/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) contamination in North Carolina.  Whenever something like this makes it into the news, the facts can quickly become obscured, so the aim of this article is to summarize a few key things to know about GenX and other PFASs in drinking water.

What Is GenX?

GenX chemical structure Chemours

GenX is a trade name for a chemical (deduced structure shown above) that went into production around 2010 as an alternative to a perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as PFOA or C8) in the synthesis of  PTFE (ie Teflon).  GenX is therefore essential for the production of common household products including non-stick pans, firefighting foam, and common outdoor fabrics (e.g. Gore-Tex).

Why Do We Care About GenX And Chemicals Like It?

It's pretty simple:  1.  These chemicals are known to be toxic (and this link too)  2.  They are persistent in the environment, which means that they don't break down, and can contaminate water far from the contamination source.

Is GenX Regulated By EPA?

No.  Which means that there are no regulatory limits, and municipalities are not required to test for it.  There are a lot of chemicals that fall into this category.

Why Is This Such A Big Problem In North Carolina?

A company called Chemours (which was originally spun out of Dupont) produces GenX at a plant in Fayetteville, NC.  Discharge from this plant contaminates the Cape Fear watershed.  

Are There "Safe" Levels of GenX And Other PFAS In Drinking Water?

Remember, while it's uncomfortable to think about chemicals of any kind existing in drinking water at any concentration, we try and remind people that the dose makes the poison.  The example that we like to use is that drinking seawater will kill you from the high salt levels, but putting a pinch of salt in your soup broth is completely fine.  The same is true for any chemical.  The most credible information that exists at this time on toxicity of PFAS comes from a toxicological profile done by US Center For Disease Control (CDC).  In this report, CDC establishes a health advisory level of 20 parts per trillion for the cumulative sum of all PFAS in drinking water, using lifetime exposure levels.  

How To Filter GenX And Other PFAS From Drinking Water

If you live in an area that has PFAS levels over the CDC's Health Advisory Levels, you have a few options to remove PFAS.  Obviously, as a water filter company, we're partial to our under sink water filtration system and refrigerator and ice maker water filter that were shown to effectively remove GenX in the home of a Wilmington, NC customer under real-world conditions (Reports Can Be Viewed HERE and HERE).  These tests were part of an ongoing monitoring program, and we did not pay for the testing. These reports show that the systems effectively filtered GenX and other PFAS under real-world conditions, for the entire 6 month filter lifetime.  Other systems that use reverse osmosis have also been shown to be effective, but they are not without downsides.  Our advice to consumers is to demand data collected in real-world conditions (real tap water), not testing in otherwise pure water. 

Note:  Hydroviv is not affiliated in any way with CFPUA or NC State.

GenX Water Filter

GenX water filter for refrigerator

At Hydroviv, we custom-build water filters using a different approach than reverse osmosis, because of the real-world problems encountered by reverse osmosis users. Instead, our scientists custom-formulate our filter cartridges so they are optimized for each customer's water.  There's a lot of proprietary stuff behind what we do, but in the name of transparency we wanted to give more information that we'd normally give about what we are doing to formulate filters for highly soluble compounds like GenX.

1.  We formulate our submicron filter blocks with a blend of activated carbons and elevated levels of a highly porous metal oxide sorbants that other fluoroalkyl compounds have been shown to stick to in the scientific literature. 

2.  We tighten up the pore sizes of our filters, which slows down the flow and increases the amount of time that the water is in contact with the filtration media, so we get much better removal efficiency when compared to granular or powdered media.

Our filters can be ordered through our product pages, and our experts will automatically use your shipping address to know if you are part of the impacted region.  

What Are Official Positions On The Situation?

Dupont:  In summary, they are saying that even though Chemours is a Dupont spinoff company, they have no comment because it's now a separate entity.

Chemours:  Deafening silence

Municipalities in Southeast North Carolina:  "We are in full compliance of Federal Regulations"

Hydroviv:  No kidding.  You can't be out of compliance if it's not a regulated chemical.

Want More Information About GenX and PFAS In Drinking Water?

We recommend that people take advantage of our "Help no matter what" approach to technical support.  Our Water Nerds are happy to discuss our products, or point you to our competitors' products that have also been shown to work.  We have been staffing our live chat line through extended hours to answer questions that people may have.  If our chat line is busy, you can drop us an email at hello@hydroviv.com.  

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Perfluoroalkyl And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs): What You Need To Know

Perfluoroalkyl And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs): What You Need To Know

Stephanie Angione, Ph.D. |  Scientific Contributor

What Are Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)?

Fluorinated substances include a diverse range of chemical compounds that all contain at least one fluorine (F) atom. These substances vary in the amount of fluorine atoms they contain, and those that are highly fluorinated, or contain many F atoms per carbon (C) atom are referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances. These highly fluorinated substances are unique in their hydrophobic (water repellent) and lipophobic/oleophobic (fat/oil repellent) properties, as well as their general chemical and thermal stability.  

These properties have made PFAS substances common in many types of applications, including creation of non-stick cooking surfaces, stain and water resistant coatings on fabrics, creation of oil/fat resistant food packaging and also in foam materials used to fight and prevent fires. Additionally, the automotive, aerospace, and construction industries have widely used these fluorinated substances for various applications due to their low friction properties.

Common PFASs include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which have been used in the production of Teflon and Scotchgard respectively. The manufacturer 3M phased out the production of PFOS in 2002 and the EPA helped manufacturers of PFOA phase out production completely in 2015.

How Do PFAS Substances Contaminate the Environment?

PFASs are deemed “emerging contaminates” by the EPA; meaning that they are chemicals or materials thought to pose a potential threat to health and the environment, but haven't yet been regulated. PFASs contribute to environmental contamination largely due to the fact that they are highly resistant to degradation processes, and thus persist for many years in water, air and can enter the food chain via bioaccumulation in certain animal species.  

The primary sources of human exposure to PFASs include:

  • Consumption of contaminated drinking water
  • Consumption of food that is packaged in materials containing PFASs, which have included fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags. (Most food manufactures have stopped using PFASs in these types of packaging.)
  • Consumption of food that contains PFASs, including fish and shellfish
  • Contact (hand to mouth) with clothing, carpets or other fabrics that have been treated with PFASs. (Skin exposure to PFASs on their own does not cause significant absorption into the body.)
  • Industrial exposure to workers who manufacture of utilize PFASs containing products

Since PFOS and PFOA are two of the most common PFASs, exposure to these compounds is widespread. These PFASs, as well as the many others, accumulate in the human body and are only broken down very slowly. These compounds take anywhere from 2-9 years to be eliminated. Thus, most people in the U.S. have detectable amounts of PFASs in their blood.  However, due to the global stewardship program established by the EPA to phase out all production of PFASs by 2015, the overall blood concentration in the U.S. population is declining.

What Are the Health Effects of PFAS Substances?

The discovery of persistent contamination of drinking water sources with PFOA in West Virginia and Ohio prompted a large epidemiological study called the C8 Health Project. The study included nearly 70,000 individuals who had elevated PFOA levels in blood – approximately 500% higher than the representative population. The study found statistical correlation between elevated blood concentrations of PFOA with ulcerative colitis, impaired thyroid function, high blood cholesterol, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and preeclampsia.

How Do Polyfluoroalkyl & Perfluoroalkyl Substances Contaminate Drinking Water?

In 2016 the EPA released a lifetime health advisory for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. This advisory indicates that the individual or combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS in water should be less than 70 parts per trillion (ppt). This EPA guideline is not an enforced limit  it simply provides guidance to local public health officials.  However, under EPA guidelines issued in 2012, water systems are required to monitor levels of PFOA and PFOS. The results of this monitoring effort can be found on the National Contaminant Occurrence Database. Together with data collected under the monitoring effort and established assessments of human health effects, the EPA will make a regulatory determination to include PFOA and PFOS in national drinking water regulations.

Communities that have sources of drinking water contaminated with PFASs are typically localized and associated with a specific industrial facility or area used for firefighting. Both PFOA and PFOS have been found in drinking water systems due to this kind of localized contamination. A 2016 study of drinking water in the U.S. found unsafe levels of PFASs at the EPA minimum level of 70 ppt in 194 out of 4,864 water sources in 33 states. Of these states, 75% of the contaminated water sources were found in order of frequency: CA, NJ, NC, AL, FL, PA, OH, NY, GA, MN, AZ, MA, and IL. Water sources with the highest levels of PFAS contamination were near industrial sites and military bases, and one of the major contributing sources was found to be firefighting foam.

How Do I Find Out If My Drinking Water Is Contaminated With Polyfluoroalkyl & Perfluoroalkyl Substances?

If you are concerned about PFOA, PFOS or other PFASs contaminants in your drinking water and are served by a public water system, your local water supplier is required to issue a Consumer Confidence Report that lists contaminant levels in the water supply.

If you get water from a household well, the local health department should have information about ground water quality and contaminants of concern, but it is often a good idea to have your water tested by a certified laboratory for PFAS contaminants. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) can provide additional resources in your local area.

How Can I Remove Polyfluoroalkyl & Perfluoroalkyl Substances From My Drinking Water?

Some public water systems employ methods (like granulated or powdered activated carbon) to reduce PFOA and PFOS at the municipal level, but these systems do not remove shorter-chain PFAS, like GenX.  Hydroviv water filters use a blend of highly-porous carbon, specialized ceramics, and ion exchange media to provide broad protection against PFASs (short and long chain) from drinking water. More expensive reverse osmosis systems are also effective, but many of the most common carbon filters on the market do not effectively reduce these chemicals.

Hydroviv makes it our business to help you better understand your water. As always, feel free to take advantage of our “help no matter what” approach to technical support! Our water nerds will work to answer your questions, even if you have no intention of purchasing one of our water filters. Reach out by dropping us an email (hello@hydroviv.com) or through our live chat. You can also find us on Twitter or Facebook!

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