Lauren R. Stevens: PFOA is everywhere and not going soon

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Friends who live in North Bennington, Vt. received the bad news the other day: Their well tested positive for PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). St. Gobain, the chemical company in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. that briefly maintained a plant at the ChemFab facility in North Bennington, has arranged for free bottled water and a charcoal filter for their well. "In the meantime we are making do with gin," they said.

The public water supply in Hoosick Falls and private wells there, in Petersburg, N.Y., in North Bennington and at least one in Bennington have tested positive for the substance, a chemical used in creating Teflon and other nonstick materials. Tests conducted in North Pownal because Warren Wire once used the Mack Molding company building on Rte. 346, close to the Fire District well No. 2, came up with results slightly over the Vermont advisory limit, with the possibility private wells in the area may also be contaminated. It is likely other area sites, like the former tannery in North Pownal, will also be tested.

The American Cancer Society says that PFOA appears to have caused cancer in lab animals. "Studies have looked at people exposed to PFOA from living near or working in chemical plants. Some of these studies have suggested an increased risk of testicular cancer with increased PFOA exposure. Studies have also suggested possible links to kidney cancer and thyroid cancer, but the increases in risk have been small and could have been due to chance," according to a Jan. 5 ACS posting.

Industries voluntarily discontinued manufacture of the chemical in December 2015. Although the concern about PFOA has been around for some time, it is unregulated and water is not normally tested for it. Furthermore state and federal guidelines are at odds. EPA recommends no more than 400 parts per trillion for short-term exposure and 100 ppt. long-term, ruling differently in different New York State communities. Vermont sets a limit of 20 ppt.

With these inconsistencies in mind, on March 10 the governors of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking for clarification. EPA is likely to set a 100 ppt. limit this spring, which might include more wells in New York and leave some well-owners in Vermont in the ambivalent position of having their wells cleared.

We also have to remember that — at least until the problem of lead in Flint and Detroit pipes — Congress has acted to limit EPA regulations in deference to states' rights.

PFOA was used in the creation of PTFE, which companies like St. Gobain employed in such products as Teflon pans, wire, GorTex jackets, ski waxes, stain-proof fabrics and rugs, as a coating on pizza boxes, in microwavable popcorn containers and — dental floss. For these niceties it appears we pay a price.

PFOA can be found in 98 percent of the US population and, indeed, it can be found worldwide. Although it does not exist in animals to anywhere near the degree it does in humans, in the environment is persists indefinitely.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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