Synergy Environmental, Inc.
Brian Loughnane, P.G
January 8, 2019
Much is being discussed in the news throughout Pennsylvania about Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), which are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Concern exists about their release into the environment, their health effects and efforts needed to remediate PFAS. To help Pennsylvania residents learn more about PFAS, and to receive input from representatives of government, industry and advocacy groups, the Wolf Administration held its first public meeting of its multi-agency PFAS Action Team Friday, during November 30, 2018.
PADEP PFAS Action Team – 2018
During September 2018 Governor Tom Wolf formed the PFAS Action Team to address growing concerns in Pennsylvania regarding PFAS. The Action Team is led by the secretaries of Environmental Protection, Health, Military and Veteran Affairs, Community and Economic Development, Agriculture, and the State Fire Commissioner. One of the first tasks of the Action Team was to hold an open meeting.
A public meeting was held November 30, 2018 at the Rachel Carson State Office in Harrisburg to present information to the general public. The meeting featured presentations from experts from state governments and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about PFAS contamination and how it is managed and included time for public comment. Public comment presentations were included as well.
Some information from the meeting includes:
Why are Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) a concern?
As described by PADEP, PFAS are not found naturally in the environment. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. They have been used to make non-stick cookware, stain protected carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. They are also used in firefighting foams and in a number of industrial processes.
PFOA and PFOS are widespread because they are persistent in the environment and do not readily break down when exposed to air, water, or sunlight. They can be found in air, soil, and water (both groundwater and surface water). PFOA and PFOS are also very persistent in the human body, and exposures to these chemicals are known to have a number of adverse effects in laboratory animals and humans
PADEP states that some, but not all, studies in humans with PFAS exposure have shown that certain PFAS may:
- affect growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children;
- lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant;
- interfere with the body’s natural hormones;
- increase cholesterol levels;
- affect the immune system; and
- increase the risk of cancer.
But studies continue and scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of PFAS.
What’s the current and future status of PFAS in Pennsylvania?
Nationwide companies began phasing out the production and use of several PFAS substances in the early 2000s, and two of the most well studied—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—are no longer manufactured or imported into the United States. Despite the phase-out, contamination has currently been identified at 15 sites in Pennsylvania, each of which is being addressed by state and federal cleanup efforts.
EPA issued a Water Health Advisory PFOA and PFOS Drinking Water
During May 19, 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established health advisories for PFOA and PFOS. To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, EPA has established the PFOA and PFOS health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion (ppt). When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS should not exceed the 70 ppt HA.
It should be noted that EPA Health advisories (HA) provide information on contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water. As well, EPA’s health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. EPA’s health advisory level for PFOA and PFOS offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health efforts resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
State MCL Consideration
Currently, there are no Pennsylvania state or federal maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a health advisory (HA) for PFOA and PFOS in May of 2016 based on the agency’s assessment of the latest peer-reviewed science. According to EPA, the lifetime HA for PFOA and PFOS of 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt) is protective of all consumers, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water. Currently DEP does not plan to deviate from the HA value at this time. DEP continues to believe that EPA’s HA is protective of public health and that everything that can be done is being done to respond to these unregulated contaminants.
Mr. Loughnane is a Professional Hydrogeologist and Director of Geosciences at Synergy Environmental. He works out of the Royersford, PA Office.