Saturday, August 06, 2022

Forever Chemical Pollution

 Saint Gobain, a French industrial fabric producer that poisoned drinking water supplies with PFAS “forever chemicals” across 65 sq miles (168 sq km) of southern New Hampshire misled regulators about the amount of toxic substance it used, a group of state lawmakers and public health advocates charge. The company now admits it used far more PFAS than regulators previously knew, and officials fear thousands more residents outside the contamination zone’s boundaries may be drinking tainted water in a region plagued by cancer clusters and other health problems thought to stem from PFAS pollution.

 PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resist water, stains and heat. The highly toxic compounds don’t naturally break down, and are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, kidney problems, decreased immunity, birth defects and other serious health problems. They have been called “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment. The company released PFOA from its smokestacks and the chemicals, once on the ground, moved through the soil and into aquifers. Hundreds of residential and municipal wells pull from the groundwater.

“People are sick, there are really high cancer rates and people literally have died, so when you see what’s happening and the company acts like this – it’s really upsetting,” said Mindi Messmer, a former state representative who analyzed the documents and sent them to the New Hampshire attorney general and state regulators.

In 2014 the company told the EPA it “is not and never has been a … user of PFOA per se anywhere in the United States.”

A company executive stated in 2006 that Saint Gobain “ought to downplay the potential health risks” of PFOA relative to other PFAS, and argue there are “no proven” health risks. Yet a 1995 company memo shows management had issued a decree to stop using PFOA “because of its toxicity and long half-life”.

In a 2016 letter to state regulators, Saint Gobain wrote that it “never used [pure PFOA] as a raw material at any point in time” in Merrimack. 

In a 2018 consent agreement, company officials repeatedly said they didn’t use pure PFOA, or didn’t have a record of using it, but instead used a diluted PFOA mixture of which the toxic chemical only comprised about 2%.

Saint Gobain no longer denies that it used pure PFOA and “vehemently denies any allegation it withheld data, or misled, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services”. The information was “not new” because it was in 90,000 documents it gave the DES since 2016, the company wrote. 

Messmer said she’s skeptical of that explanation: “If you throw 90,000 papers at someone, is that really notifying them?”

Meantime, new research shows that rainwater in most locations on Earth contains levels of forever chemicals that "greatly exceed" safety levels. Earlier this year a BBC investigation found PFAS in water samples in England at levels that exceeded European safety levels, but did not exceed the current safety level in England and Wales.

This new study, which looks at four specific chemicals in the class, suggests that levels of one PFAS in rainwater around the globe often "greatly exceed" US drinking water advisory levels.

Soil around the world is similarly contaminated, evidence suggests.

The study's findings lead the authors to conclude that a planetary boundary has been crossed - that there simply is no safe space on Earth to avoid these substances.

"We argue here that we're not within this safe operating space anymore, because we now have these chemicals everywhere, and these safety advisories, we can't achieve them anymore," said Prof Ian Cousins, the lead author from Stockholm University. "I'm not saying that we're all going to die of these effects. But we're in a place now where you can't live anywhere on the planet, and be sure that the environment is safe."

‘They all knew’: textile company misled regulators about use of toxic PFAS, documents show | PFAS | The Guardian

Pollution: 'Forever chemicals' in rainwater exceed safe levels - BBC News

No comments: