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EPA Threatens States' Ability To Protect Drinking Water

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, June 4, 2020 at 11:00 am -0400

 Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd   

The Clean Water Act (CWA) was created in 1972 to set important water quality standards for the nations waterways. One of the most important portions of the CWA is Section 401, which limits the type and quantity of allowable pollutants in jurisdictional waterways. Section 401 states that you must obtain a permit when considering the addition of a pollutant into navigable water, creating an important barrier to pollution. The EPA has recently amended Section 401 to make it more difficult for states to enforce clean water restrictions. 

What Is The Environmental Protection Agency's New Rule and Why Is It Bad?

The newly proposed final rule will make it more difficult for states to block projects that are inherently bad for water. A major stipulation of this amendment is that it will create a statutory deadline so that a final action must be taken within one year of receiving a certification/permit. This rule will rush projects without proper environmental oversight and due diligence. Re-certification takes time and taxpayer money, so the one-year statutory deadline is a very powerful move. 

The Uphill Battle for Clean Water

According to EPA, portions of the Clean Water Act are standing in the way of the administration's ability to uphold Executive Order 13868: Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth. EPA claims that states’ have historically abused Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to address things unrelated to water, such as political rhetoric and climate change. On May 15, 2020, New York used Section 401 to block a pipeline that would have transported natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation cited that the pipeline would violate Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, by threatening the state's water quality. In 2017, Washington used Section 401 to block construction permits for a terminal that would have transported coal to countries in Asia. Washington’s Department of Ecology cited potential threats to the Columbia River, and denied the necessary permits. The EPA believes that the motive for states to deny such permits have nothing to do with drinking water. Whether this true or not, states have historically had the discretion when and how to provide permits, until now. 

How Does This Rule Impact People on City Water?

These changes may affect people who are on a public water if your city’s water supply is located near a proposed pipeline project. The one-year restriction also rushes projects without a full environmental vetting process, including how the project may impact your tap water. Once a spill or pipeline leak has been detected, a municipal supply has most likely already been contaminated. This applies to city source water that is from both surface water and groundwater.

How Does This Rule Impact Private Well Users?

Private wells users are entirely on their own for determining the safety of their water, and are often impacted the most by pipeline projects. The viral videos of homeowners lighting their water on fire are the result of contaminated wells by leaking pipelines pipes, fracking, and other projects that will be supported as a result of this new rule. 

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BREAKING: New DuPont Lawsuit

Analies Dyjak @ Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 3:19 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd   

The environment effects of industrial chemicals and explosives manufactured as early 1880 still impact drinking water today. Chemical manufacturer, DuPont, has been polluting natural resources and drinking water for decades and has received numerous lawsuits as a result. PFAS are at the heart of a litany of lawsuits filed against DuPont and other companies like it. However, people are still being exposed to high levels of toxic and carcinogenic contaminants everyday in the United States. 

Who Is Responsible for PFAS Contamination In Drinking Water?

Part of the reason no one has figured out who is to blame for PFAS contamination comes down to a central set of ambiguities: 
  1. Should the government be held liable for allowing harmful chemicals to be manufactured? 
  2. Should chemical manufacturers be held liable for producing and contaminating the environment with knowingly dangerous contaminants?

The question of liability is a question for the courts. In the interim, it’s important to consider how those impacted are dealing with the effects. 

DuPont vs. The Federal Government

DuPont is doing everything in their power to place blame elsewhere for endangering the lives of millions of Americans. Their new strategy however, involves pointing their finger at the Federal Government.The state of New Jersey sued DuPont in early 2019 after PFAS and other harmful contaminants were detected in drinking water, groundwater, soil, and other natural resources around nearby chemical plants. DuPont has since asserted that the company was upholding federal defense contracts when producing and distributing millions of pounds of chemicals. DuPont stated that in a variety of contracts, the Federal Government requested millions of pounds of chemicals during World War 1 and World War II. DuPont was a major recipient of these federal contracts and that at the time, the future consequences of producing such chemicals were not top of mind. Regardless the outcome of this particular suit, DuPont will still be held liable for other PFAS contamination not associated with these federal contracts.

PFAS Contamination in New Jersey 

Four sites in New Jersey are at the heart of this lawsuit. Some of these sites began producing industrial chemicals and explosives as early as 1880. Now in 2020, these chemicals are still wreaking havoc on communities throughout New Jersey. These sites include Pompton Lakes, Parlin - Sayerville, Repauno - Gibbstown, and Chambers Works - Carney’s Point. PFAS are of particular concern at the Parlin and Chambers Works sites. 

What Is EPA Doing About PFAS?

The EPA plays an important role in how the U.S. will address PFAS contamination in drinking water. EPA is responsible for cleaning up sites where PFAS have been detected, as well as reducing the threat of exposure to humans. For the latter, EPA must set federal standards by determining the levels at which humans can be exposed without becoming ill. EPA has acknowledged that PFAS are harmful and can cause a variety of negative health effects. In November of 2018, a draft toxicological report stated that GenX, which is a PFAS-variation, is considered a  “probable human carcinogen.” Additionally, EPA has stated that exposure to PFAS has been associated with: cancer, low infant birth weights, thyroid hormone disruption, and effects on the immune system. PFAS still remain unregulated. 

When Will PFAS Be Regulated?

PFAS are still in the very early regulatory stages. Momentum has picked up as recently as February, 2020 when EPA proposed two regulations for PFOA and PFOS. While PFOA and PFOS are the most ubiquitous in tap water, The Food and Drug Administration has determined that there are almost 5,000 different types of PFAS present in the environment. It is reductive and myopic to limit the formulation of policy to PFOA and PFOS when addressing PFAS as an overall threat. It’s also important to note that just because EPA has come to a regulatory determination, does not mean that a regulation will come to fruition. Just last week EPA decided after a 19-year regulatory process not to regulate perchlorate in tap water. EPA has a history of not following through with regulations pertaining to the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

States Action on PFAS

Other states involved in major PFAS litigation, including New Jersey, Minnesota, and Michigan, are being handed settlements that do not properly address the scope of damages to the environment and human health. Even in the recent Dupont/New Jersey suit, the state sued Dupont for damages to natural resources without once acknowledging impacts to human health. We wrote an article highlighting how some states are addressing PFAS contamination. 

Our Take: 

Lawsuits and regulatory action are just a small part of a much larger problem, and any positive outcomes will only take place in the distant future. Efforts should be focused on addressing immediate PFAS exposure in drinking water. Additionally, people should be notified if and when PFAS contamination becomes a problem in their community. The question of who is liable for mitigation and remediation will be left to the courts.

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BREAKING: EPA to Pull Regulation for Tap Water Contaminant

Analies Dyjak @ Monday, May 18, 2020 at 11:05 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Analyst   

Another drinking water contaminant has failed to make its way through the Environmental Protection Agency's grueling regulatory process. On Thursday, May 14, 2020, EPA made the decision to no longer pursue a perchlorate regulation in tap water. This perchlorate regulation would have been EPA's first proposed standard in 24 years. 

What Is Perchlorate?

Perchlorate is a colorless, odorless salt, that is both naturally-occurring and man-made. Perchlorate is used in rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks, and flares. According to the ATSDR, about 90% of man-made perchlorate is manufactured for defense and aerospace industries. Naturally-occurring perchlorate can be found in soils in the Southwestern United States. Perchlorate find its way into drinking water through runoff and other means of stormwater pollution. Because perchlorate is not regulated very well, rules for disposal and mitigation are relatively weak. Unlike PFAS, perchlorate is not ubiquitous in tap water across the United States. 

How Does Perchlorate Impact Health?

Exposure to perchlorate can impact the thyroid glands ability to take up iodine. EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) has indicated that perchlorate is not carcinogenic to humans, but does state that it’s known to cause negative impacts to the endocrine system. Long term perchlorate exposure is also known to lower thyroid hormone levels, which can impact the cardiovascular system, pulmonary system, liver function, and more. Scientific literature regarding how perchlorate impacts humans is not sufficient. In addition, health and regulatory bodies have stopped prioritizing perchlorate research in recent years, making EPA's decision even more suspicious. 

Why Is Perchlorate Still Allowed In Drinking Water? 

In short, perchlorate is extremely expensive to remove. EPA must consider the cost of removal with the benefit to public health when determining a regulation. EPA does this for all drinking water contaminants - the most famous and controversial being the arsenic standard. Most municipalities in the U.S. can not afford the technology necessary to get rid of many harmful contaminants at the distribution level. This includes contaminants like arsenic, PFAS, chromium 6, perchlorate, and more. 

How Does EPA Determine Which Chemicals Get Removed From Drinking Water?

EPA has an exhaustive process for regulating contaminants in tap water. We wrote an in-depth article about the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) and the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). In short, a list of 30 contaminants gets whittled down so that EPA can decide whether to regulate or not. The major factor that goes into a “regulatory determination” is the cost. EPA must weigh the cost of removing a contaminant at the municipal level with the benefits to public health. “Unfunded mandates” are difficult to justify and doing so is the equivalent of forcing a community to pay for something they can’t afford.

Regulatory Case Study: Perchlorate

EPA first introduced a regulation for perchlorate in 2001, during EPA’s first Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). A CCL listing indicates that federal agencies have concerns about the health impacts associated with a contaminant found in drinking water. Further, CCL is a refined list that is composed of the top contaminants that likely threaten the nation's drinking water. A CLL listing also indicates the need for further research and to determine if a regulation is even financially possible. 

Our Take:

The failure to regulate perchlorate was a surprise to our team of Water Nerds. The decision made by EPA last week was especially confusing because Perchlorate has been listed on three out of the four most recent CCL's since 2001. As recent as 2019, health and regulatory agencies believed that perchlorate posed a big enough threat to warrant a regulation. The only reason that perchlorate wasn’t included in the most recent UCMR list is most likely because so many other new contaminants were added, including various PFAS chemicals

Unfortunately, perchlorate is another example of the UCMR process and its inability to regulate contaminants found in drinking water. EPA stated that a regulation was not necessary because perchlorate is no longer a problem in drinking water. Whether that’s true or not, testing and monitoring for perchlorate has reduced so significantly in recent years that we find it hard to believe their claims. As previously stated, perchlorate has been included in  3 out of 4 UCRM CCL lists - indicating that regulators and public health officials believe that it’s still a problem. 

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NEW: PFAS Found in Groundwater Near Incineration Facility in New York State

Analies Dyjak @ Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5:15 pm -0400

Anales Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd   

A new study out of Bennington College has shed light on new challenges as the federal government tries to figure out how to address PFAS contamination. PFAS, or "forever chemicals,"  are being found in tap water across the country. PFAS are known to cause a variety of health issues, including cancer and and an increased risk of miscarriages. PFAS compounds are a key ingredient in Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam or AFFF. All of these terms are used interchangeably in the media, including "forever chemicals" so we wanted to make to clarify.

Department of Defense and PFAS:

The Department of Defense has been responsible for deploying a significant amount of PFAS contamination into the environment. This is in part due to its presence in firefighting foam (AFFF), which is often used during on-base activities. Because there is no comparable alternative, the use of PFAS-containing AFFF is necessary for fire suppression. At the time PFAS and AFFF were first invented, sufficient predictive health modeling and epidemiology did not exist. Department of Defense must also consider a second issue, which is the impacts to on-base drinking water supplies. Military bases have their own water supply that’s separate from nearby municipalities. This means that DoD is responsible for determining the safety of the water being distributed to military personnel and their families. DoD has identified over 400 U.S. military bases whose water supply is contaminated with PFAS. 

How Do We Get Rid of PFAS in the Environment?

There is no current "best practice" for PFAS mitigation and the government has yet to figure out how to properly dispose of PFAS chemicals. In a 2017 SBIR solicitation, the Department of Defense acknowledged that “no satisfactory disposal method has been identified” and “many likely byproducts will be environmentally unsatisfactory.” Despite both of these claims, the DoD entered contracts with incineration facilities in Ohio, Arkansas, New York, and more

Public Health Crisis in Cohoes, New York

In 2018, the Norlite incineration facility in Cohoes, New York began burning AFFF from a contract with DoD. Residents of Cohoes were not made aware that the Norlite facility was burning AFFF until February 2020. Research out of Bennington College determined that because PFAS were being detected downwind of the Norlite plant, that the chemicals were not being fully incinerated. The researchers believe that this could be because the PFAS from DoD were used as a fire suppressant, making it unlikely that they would break down via incineration. The city of Cohoes is currently trying to pass a one-year moratorium on PFAS incineration so that further studies can be completed on impacts surrounding communities. 

What Are PFAS?

PFAS have historically been used in firefighting foam, non-stick and stain resistant surfaces, and Teflon. PFAS use a carbon-fluorine bond, which is one of the strongest chemical bonds and extremely difficult to break down in the environment. There are a variety of health impacts associated with exposure to PFAS including; cancer, low infant birth weight, thyroid problems, and effects on the immune system. A recent study out of Yale University School of Public Health found that PFAS exposure increases the risk of miscarriages in pregnant women by 80-120%

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Yale University: PFAS Linked With Increased Risk of Miscarriage

Analies Dyjak @ Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at 2:59 pm -0400

Analies Dyjak, M.A. | Policy Nerd   

A recent study out of the Yale School of Public Health found that PFAS are linked to an increased risk of miscarriages in pregnant women. Our Water Nerds would like to acknowledge that the matter of this study regards a sensitive subject for families across the world. Though this information may be jarring, it further emphasizes the dangers of PFAS exposure and why finding a solution should be a top priority. 

About The Yale Study:

Dr. Zeyan Liew, the lead researcher of this study, has focused a majority of his professional career to studying perinatal epidemiology. There are only three total studies that have assessed PFAS exposure and miscarriages, this study included. The Yale researchers used data from the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC). The study assessed 220 pregnancies ending in live births (control) and 220 pregnancies ending in miscarriages. The sample size of the research was limited by the cost of testing for PFAS in maternal plasma. 

What Did The Study Find?

The Yale University PFAS study evaluated prenatal exposure to seven different PFAS variations, and the risk of miscarriage. The study tested the more common types of PFAS typically found in drinking water; PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, PFHpS, PFNA, PFDA, and PFOSA. The study determined that the cohort of women with higher amounts of PFAS in their maternal plasma had an 80% to 120% increased risk of miscarriage than those with lower amounts of PFAS. The researchers listed drinking water, food packaging, indoor air, and "other" environmental exposures as the primary routes of ingestion/inhalation into the human body. 

PFAS: What You Need To Know

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are being detected in a growing number of tap water supplies across the country. Because PFAS are considered to be an “emerging contaminant,” there are very few credible studies that show associations with exposure to PFAS and negative health effects. Up until this point, a majority of PFAS toxicology studies have been completed on laboratory mice. This particular Yale study is one of the few completed entirely on pregnant women. As with any epidemiological study, more research is necessary to further elucidate the causal connection between PFAS and an increased risk of miscarriage.

PFAS are unregulated, meaning that most municipalities are not required to test, monitor, or remove them from tap water. Further, private well owners are entirely on their own for determining if PFAS is in their well water. EWG has begun mapping out areas of the country that have detected PFAS in finished tap water. Although EWG is a great preliminary resource, it’s important to note that they do not have data on every city in the United States. If your municipality is not on the map, it does not mean that your water is free of PFAS. If you're curious to see if your water has been tested for PFAS, click here

Disclosure: Make Sure Your Filter Removes PFAS

A study by Duke University and NC State University tested major water filtration brands and their ability to remove PFAS. Hydroviv Undersink and Refrigerator Line water filters removed PFAS better than most major brands. PFAS present in the unfiltered sample had undetectable (below the Method Detection Limit (<MDL) in the Hydroviv filtered water. To our surprise, the study found that many well known brands did not do a great job at removing PFAS. Filtration brands including Brita, Pur, Zerowater, Samsung, and GE failed to bring PFAS levels down to undetectable.

Some brands, including Berkey, Aquasana, and Puronics actually leaked PFAS from the filtration media back into drinking water… This is often the result of over-saturation and low-quality filtration media. The Duke study also evaluated various Reverse Osmosis (RO) filters. Data from each of the RO systems that were tested found undetectable levels of PFAS in the filtrate.

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