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EPA Might as Well Be Telling Millions with Contaminated Water: 'Drink Up, Folks'

January 29, 2019 - 6:00am

The Trump administration will not set legal limits for two toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, that may contaminate more than 110 million Americans’ drinking water, including the drinking water of millions of Floridians, according to Washington, D.C. sources familiar with the upcoming decision. 

The worst contamination occurs near sites where firefighters have trained with an aqueous film-forming foam.

In his confirmation hearing last month, Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the agency would announce plans soon to address the widespread contamination of the nation’s tap water with the compounds PFOA and PFOS. The two chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, are the best-known members of the family of highly fluorinated compounds known as PFAS.

But Politico Pro’s Annie Snider reported Monday via the nonprofit, nonpartisan Environmental Working Group (EWG) that, according to her sources, Wheeler will not move to regulate any of the PFAS family of chemicals by setting a legal limit, known as a maximum contaminant level, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“If these sources are right, the EPA is essentially telling the more than 110 million Americans whose water is likely contaminated with PFAS: ‘Drink up, folks.” said EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews, Ph.D.

These are the same cancer-causing chemicals found in high concentrations underground near Florida State Fire College in Ocala, in the city of Stuart, in Satellite Beach and other cities -- and on military bases around the Sunshine State.
The city of Stuart is moving quickly to protect citizens, having first taken the contaminated wells offline and installed a specialized filter. Stuart commissioners aren't waiting until people get sick, they're working proactively to find a deep, safe alternative water source. But here's the rub: The complete fix in this one small Florida city is estimated at $16 million to drill more and deeper wells. 

“The most efficient and equitable way to remove these chemicals from the nation’s drinking water supply is to use the agency’s authority to set legal limits,” said Andrews. “It’s a national problem, and it needs a national solution. Anything short of that is window dressing.”

The agency has dragged its feet on setting legal limits for PFOA and PFOS for almost 20 years. The EPA’s tests have detected PFAS pollution in the public water supplies of 16 million Americans in 33 states, but that is considered a severe underestimate of the scope of the problem.

EWG and researchers at Northeastern University have tracked 172 PFAS contamination sites in 40 states. Drawing on unreleased data from the EPA tests, EWG estimates that water supplies for as many as 110 million Americans may be contaminated.  

The growing PFAS crisis found support in Congress last week on both sides of the aisle when Republicans and Democrats in the House formed a PFAS Task Force to address the urgent drinking water contamination crisis caused by these toxic fluorinated chemicals.

Meanwhile, freshman state Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, an environmental scientist, submitted an appropriations request two weeks ago for $16 million longterm for but $2 million immediately to engineer, permit and drill the new wells in Stuart. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is looking at the statewide problem now.

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