The man-made group of chemicals known as “PFAS” has been all over the news in recent years especially 2017 and 2018; as the number of people exposed to tainted drinking water rises, military families have come forward and appear to be especially susceptible to the dangers of PFAS due to the fact they live on or near military bases.
PFAS stands for “polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances,” a group of chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, the two getting the most attention lately. PFAS were previously called PFCs, FCs or fluorocarbons, and they come in 5,000 or so varieties. These chemicals, often associated with 3M and DuPont, are characterized by bonds between carbon and fluorine and are among the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. Consumers may be more familiar with the names of two of the most studied forms of PFAS: PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), once used in Scotchgard and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), also called C-8 and once used to make Teflon.
PFAS chemicals that leach into groundwater around military bases pose a serious, life-threatening health crisis for the families living in close proximity to those bases. Studies show that these chemicals are found in 99% of the American population, and on a daily basis, millions of people ingest drinking water with unsafe levels of PFAS. To date, the EPA has done very little to regulate or restrict these chemicals. Many military families express outrage and betrayal by the same government that preaches to service members: “Do the right thing.” “Integrity first.” “Service before self.” “Excellence in all we do.”
Dangers of PFAS
PFOA and PFOS have been used since the 1940’s in products including Teflon-coated cookware and military firefighting foam. PFAS chemicals are found in and around virtually every military base where firefighting foam has been used in training exercises. Now, military women and men and their family members are getting sick. Some military families have witnessed loved ones suffering due to tumors, thyroid problems, and debilitating fatigue.
Medical studies have shown that PFAS can lead to serious health conditions and have adverse effects on reproductive systems, liver and kidney functions, and the immune system. PFOA and PFOS have been linked to:
- Low infant birth weights
- Compromised immune system
- Thyroid hormone disruption
Latest EPA Announcement Regarding PFAS
Andrew Wheeler, the current Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently announced the EPA’s plan to deal with PFAS-contaminated drinking water in the United States and around several military bases that have allowed the chemicals to leach into the groundwater for decades. Wheeler’s announcement did not include a firm deadline for setting a national standard for PFAS. Prompted by countless delays and a process to set a PFAS limit that seemingly moves at a snail’s pace, some states, including Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, have taken steps to set their own MCL—maximum contaminant level—for PFAS.
According to the EPA’s plan, levels of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is not to exceed 70 parts per trillion. However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, claims the safe threshold is only 7 parts per trillion for PFOS and 11 parts per trillion for PFOA. That is a great deal lower than what the EPA has said is an acceptable level of PFAS in water.
Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts concluded that the EPA’s PFAS limit “may be more than 100-fold too high.” According to EPA Administrator Wheeler, by the end of 2019, the agency will propose a “regulatory determination,” which is the next step legally required under the Safe Drinking Water Act to establish a “maximum contaminant level” for the chemicals. Will the EPA finally deliver on something that has affected millions of Americans for many years or will it stall, delay, or postpone a definitive standard for PFAS in water yet again?