The U.S. Environmental Safety Company drew reward earlier this yr when it proposed long-awaited drinking water standards for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. However the company is lacking a significant supply of those so-called “perpetually chemical substances,” based on researchers at Harvard College.
A study printed Monday within the journal Environmental Science and Know-how finds that PFAS “precursors” from firefighting foam could make their manner into the soil and groundwater, the place they slowly remodel into the carcinogenic substances the EPA focused. At a army website in Massachusetts — the main target of the examine — these precursors accounted for roughly half of all groundwater contamination by these chemical substances. However on a nationwide scale they’re occasionally monitored, and none are regulated.
Bridger Ruyle, the examine’s lead creator and a former doctoral pupil on the Harvard Faculty of Engineering and Utilized Sciences, stated the outcomes increase issues about ongoing PFAS air pollution at a whole lot of army areas. Regulators are “lacking the big-picture chemistry at these websites,” he advised Grist.
PFAS are a category of more than 9,000 fluorinated compounds which were used because the mid-1900s to make clothes and meals containers, amongst different merchandise, oil- and water-repellent. Additionally they make firefighting foam spread faster over fires. They don’t break down naturally over time, therefore the nickname “perpetually chemical substances,” and mounting analysis hyperlinks them to kidney and testicular cancers, compromised immune methods, thyroid problems, and different well being issues.
Some merchandise, like firefighting foam, additionally comprise PFAS precursors — compounds that, when subjected to the appropriate microbes or different environmental situations, remodel into perpetually chemical substances.
The U.S. Division of Protection, one of many nation’s largest customers of firefighting foam, is legally required to phase those chemicals and their precursors out of its firefighting foam by October, however transitioning to safer merchandise gained’t do something to scrub up a long time of air pollution. On the army website in Massachusetts, known as Joint Base Cape Cod, Ruyle and his colleagues discovered that precursors launched into the soil so long as 50 years in the past continued to show into PFHxS and PFBS — two of the PFAS recognized as most hazardous by the EPA — resulting in concentrations 2,000 instances larger than present regulatory limits.
To Ruyle, this implies that precursors might drive PFAS air pollution at unsafe ranges for years into the longer term. “Contamination will in all probability final for a number of a whole lot of years, doubtlessly longer,” he stated. The paper says perpetually chemical substances are already widespread at greater than 300 army bases across the nation that used firefighting foams.
Jamie DeWitt, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina College in North Carolina, who wasn’t concerned within the examine, stated the researchers had been “spot on” to focus on the precursors as an underappreciated danger to human well being. Contamination from firefighting foam “goes to be an ongoing supply of publicity,” she stated.
Whereas many have applauded the proposed ingesting water requirements for six frequent PFAS, critics say the EPA has but to deal with hundreds of extra PFAS and a whole lot of their precursors, a lot of which have already been detected within the pure surroundings. DeWitt says it’s time for the company to manage PFAS and their precursors as a category, quite than attempting to guage their hazards individually. “It may be difficult to offer regulatory oversight when the expectation is that you just do it on a chemical-by-chemical foundation,” she stated.
Ruyle was extra hesitant, citing some hard-to-avoid makes use of for fluorinated compounds — like in medicine. However he stated the EPA ought to at the very least regulate precursors which might be recognized to remodel into hazardous PFAS. “Lots of preliminary proof means that a lot of these compounds could also be much more poisonous on the similar dose,” he stated. “It doesn’t make sense to have one however not the opposite” coated by the EPA’s rules.
The EPA didn’t reply to Grist’s request for remark. The company is accepting public comments on its proposed ingesting water requirements till the top of the month.
This text initially appeared in Grist at https://grist.org/well being/the-epas-proposed-pfas-regulations-ignore-a-major-source-of-drinking-water-contamination/.
Grist is a nonprofit, unbiased media group devoted to telling tales of local weather options and a simply future. Study extra at Grist.org.
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