In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 photo, a woman leaves a Tops supermarket with bottled water that is being supplied to residents in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA, long used in the manufacuring of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, and many other products has turned up in the water in factory towns around the country like Hoosick Falls, impacting drinking water. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
The discovery and continued controversy over C8 contamination in the drinking water supply in Hoosick Falls, New York, continues to cause quite a stir — and a flurry of response and action by federal and state officials.
Over last weekend, as reported here by The New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuoma made the announcement that a fairly quick move to install new filters on the local water system has had the desired results:
More than six weeks after declaring an environmental emergency in this upstate village, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made his first visit here on Sunday, announcing that a new filter system had successfully cleared a toxic chemical known as PFOA from the municipal water supply.
It’s quite a contrast to West Virginia, where for some residents in the Mid-Ohio Valley it took a years-long court battle to get water treatment to rid their water of C8 — and where some residents in that same part of the state still can’t get any action on the contamination in their communities. As we recently reported in the Gazette-Mail:
While the Obama administration continues work on a long-awaited national standard for C8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tightened a pollution advisory for a town in New York — but not for West Virginia communities where drinking water has long been contaminated with the same toxic chemical.
Last week, a lawyer who has for 15 years been urging EPA to take stronger actions about C8 pollution from DuPont Co. and other firms wrote to the agency to question why officials have not updated a drinking water advisory level for Wood County communities to match one issued in late January in Hoosick Falls, New York.
In this Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, Michael Hickey poses near Hoosick Falls municipal well 7 between two baseball fields in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA, long used in the manufacuring of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, and many other products has turned up in the water in factory towns around the country like Hoosick Falls. Hickey, a local insurance underwriter, exposed the contamination in Hoosick Falls, a bucolic community near the Vermont state line. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
In the New York region, concerns about C8 contamination have recently spread into nearby Vermont communities, and potential contamination downstream from West Virginia, along the Kentucky-Ohio border has finally gotten some much needed media attention. An Associated Press account reminds us that C8 is a broader concern around the country:
Of 4,764 water supplies, 103 systems in 29 states had trace amounts of PFOA, but none exceeded 400 parts per trillion, EPA’s advisory level for short-term exposure — water you drink for only a few weeks. Seven had levels slightly over 100 ppt, the new advisory level for long-term exposure — for the water you drink for years — that the EPA is expected to set this spring.
But the EPA’s national survey didn’t tell the whole story.
Towns the size of Hoosick Falls, New York, whose water supply serves just 4,500 people, weren’t included in the testing. Its PFOA level of 600 ppt was discovered in village wells in 2014 only because residents, concerned about what they perceived as a high cancer rate in the plastics factory town, demanded testing.
The AP story included some important context about whether EPA’s emergency short-term number in Hoosick Falls — 0.1 parts per billion or 100 parts per trillion — is appropriate:
“I would consider it an urgent priority to decrease exposures,” said Philippe Grandjean, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health who believes the 100 ppt safe-exposure level EPA is proposing is still 100 times too high.
Vermont health officials, for example, have set that state’s PFOA level at 20 ppt, based on the same research the EPA is relying on.
But the story confuses the issue quite a bit by going back and forth between the issue of a short-term exposure number and a long-term one, not making it clear that EPA’s 100-part-per-trillion number in Hoosick Falls is a short-term number and if EPA believes that it’s a safe short-term number, then any long-term number would necessarily have to be smaller, to take into account more exposure over longer periods of time and the build-up of chemicals in the body.
And, while AP doesn’t say provide a source for its reporting that the 100 ppt number is what EPA will likely adopt later this year, EPA has tried to make it clear that it most certainly has not decided on that number, telling me last month:
In the most recent EPA report on PFOA toxicity, which underwent independent external peer review in August 2014, the agency identified a toxicity value that would result in a lifetime health advisory level of 100 parts per trillion. Health advisories are not released until final, but in response to concerns about PFOA levels in drinking water in Hoosick Falls, NY, EPA decided to share the best available science to protect public health. While finalization of the health advisories continues, out of an abundance of caution EPA recommends that people in Hoosick Falls, NY not use water where PFOA has been found to be present at a level greater than 100 parts per trillion for drinking or cooking, and instead use bottled water. However, EPA emphasizes that we have not finalized 100 parts per trillion as the lifetime health advisory for PFOA.