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The EPA has finally acknowledged that no amount of exposure to PFOA and PFOS, two types of PFAS in drinking water, is safe. We’ve known it for years. The EPA’s disclosure is the government’s way of saying that most Americans have been drinking poisoned water for a generation or longer – and continue to do so.

The updated advisory levels of .004 parts per trillion (ppt) for per fluoro octanoic acid (PFOA) and .02 ppt for per fluoro octane sulfonic acid (PFOS) dramatically strengthens the EPA’s 2016 advisory of 70 ppt for either compound, or a combination of both.

Talk about orders of magnitude! The new advisory for PFOA is 17,500 times lower than the old 70 ppt. (70 / .004). The new level for PFOS is 3,500 times lower.

The EPA’s announcement stops short of actually regulating the chemicals, although the agency recommends states and drinking water utilities that detect PFOA and PFOS take steps to drastically reduce exposure. The interim values will prompt additional PFAS testing nationally and that’s a good development. It’s something we’ve been working on.

The EPA still refuses to exercise its authority to set enforceable maximum contaminant levels, although they are talking about it.

The advisory, announced during the 3rd National PFAS Meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina, was a public relations coup for the agency. Radhika Fox, EPA’s water chief, announced the new health advisories at the national meeting.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan boasted, “People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long. That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge.” Regan continued, “Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are also investing $1 billion to reduce PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water.”

A handful of water districts in Orange County, California say it’ll cost $1 Billion to repair the damage caused by the chemicals.

On the same day the EPA announced its $1 Billion to reduce PFAS contamination in drinking water, President Biden announced another $1 billion in weapons for Ukraine for anti-ship systems, artillery rockets and rounds for howitzers.

The EPA also set health advisories for GenX and PFBS, to 10 and 2000 parts per trillion, respectively.

In 2016, when the EPA initially set advisories for PFOA and PFOS, the agency made it clear that the dominant source of human exposure to these chemicals is from the diet, not the drinking water. “From a national perspective, the dominant source of human exposure to PFOA/PFOS is expected to be from the diet; indoor dust from carpets and other sources also is an important source of exposure, especially for children. The HA (for drinking water) was calculated using a relative source contribution (RSC) of 20%, which allows for other PFOS exposure sources (e.g., dust, diet, air) to make up 80% of the reference dose.”

Carcinogenic dust and contaminated air may likely pose greater threats to human health than drinking water in many locations around the country, although none of the recent bluster from the EPA mentions PFAS contamination from these sources.

Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry . (CDC/ATSDR) published a PFAS “exposure assessment” in the community surrounding the Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

PFHxS and PFOS had the highest concentrations in groundwater and surface water on the base. The same compounds also topped the list for concentrations in blood serum and dust in the surrounding community. PFHxS is a particularly toxic chemical that the EPA does not address - along with 12,000 others.

Dust was found in homes with concentrations of PFHxS up to 16.4 million ppt; PFOS measured 13.9 million ppt; and PFOA was detected at 3.4 million ppt. Apparently, the carcinogens pour out of the Air Force base into creeks that run near neighborhoods. The streams flood and then recede, leaving PFAS sediment on the banks. The sun dries the toxins which are picked up by the wind and deposited into people’s lungs and homes. It’s horrible.

The federal government’s PFAS game plan obsesses on drinking water and little else, so it is maddening to hear EPA chief Regan say people have “suffered too long.” We’ll be suffering a lot longer under his leadership.

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CDC/ASTDR ought to be testing from the grocery stores in Martinsburg and everywhere else across the country. Most of the PFAS in our bodies comes from the food we eat! We know PFHxS and PFOS are bio accumulative in fish. The study should have looked at the fish people consume.

Eggs, milk, fruits, and vegetables have been clearly documented with dangerous levels of the compounds in locations across the country, dwarfing the old 70 ppt drinking water advisory by several orders of magnitude. Fish have been caught near military installations with concentrations of 10 million ppt of PFOS in filet. One bite of this cancerous fish contains more PFAS than drinking water with 70 ppt for a lifetime.

Why the focus on water and little else?

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the power behind the curtain in the chemical land of OZ, says it supports "strong, science-based regulation of chemicals, including PFAS substances.″ The deep-pocketed group showers members of Congress with campaign contributions. They say all PFAS are not the same. They’re hoping the EPA continues its whack-a-mole approach regarding the 12,000 unregulated PFAS compounds that exist. The ACC says the standards they advocate “will give Americans greater confidence in the safety of their water supply and help to eliminate some of the confusion that exists around PFAS.”

Powerful lobbies represent the fishing, tourism, and restaurant industries that don’t want to see new federal regulations. Trump and the Republicans receive support from those championing deregulation. So do Biden and the Democrats.

I was an intern for Common Cause in 1972. I worked for the great John Gardner (HEW under Johnson). He taught me to use FEC data to track the money to committee chairs and members, like you would today for members of the Senate's Public Works and Environment Committee who are blocking PFAS legislation. He told me to follow the money.

I have, Mr. Gardner, but it doesn’t make any difference.

Of course, the Department of Defense plays a significant role in the EPA’s refusal to set maximum contaminant levels for the suite of compounds in drinking water and various media. The DOD is concerned that the EPA may force it to clean up the mess it has made, an extraordinarily costly proposition.

Imagine the size of that class-action suit! This isn’t intended to be a joke.

Other Federal Players

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (ATSDR) reported in its 2015 public health statement that food is the primary source of exposure to PFAS. They’ve been honest with us. It’s just that they’re not telling us enough of the rest of the story.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a big part of the problem. The agency says we shouldn’t be worried about concentrations of PFAS in the food we eat. They say they have no scientific evidence indicating a need to avoid any food. Michigan tested more than 2,000 fish and found the average to contain 80,000 ppt of PFOS and that’s OK with the FDA.

The FDA says: “There is no scientific evidence that supports avoiding particular foods in the general food supply because of concerns regarding PFAS contamination.” What could motivate the FDA to make such a dangerous and preposterous statement? Certainly, they’re not in it to protect the public’s health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) isn’t any help either. They still say studies have found “possible” human health risks to PFAS exposure. The USDA says that no adverse health effects are anticipated to occur below the 70 ppt level for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. Hopefully, they’ll change their tune.

In the meantime, the EPA is basking in the positive press it has generated during the last few days. Mainstream press outlets reported on the sources of PFAS, from frying pans to food wrappers, but generally failed to mention the food.

I guess there’s too much money in the industries that sell us the food we eat for the EPA or other federal lackeys to deal with it. So, they try to convince us it’s all about the water while they fail to tell us that all those consumer products they frequently point to wind up in the landfill or they’re incinerated. Either way, the toxins are sent back to the soils and the waters that poison our land and our seas.

Americans must take care of themselves by learning how to live in this brave new world.

Crossposted from Military Poisons