UPPER DUBLIN — The need to set a nationwide maximum contamination level of PFAS and PFOA in drinking water, safely dispose of contaminated soil and stop manufacturing products containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances were the focus of a roundtable discussion led by members of a Congressional PFAS Task Force Monday hosted by U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, PA-4.
Representatives from federal, state and local government, citizen groups, and others, reviewed action at the federal and state levels and scientific research.
The EPA has a health advisory for a maximum 70 ppt. of PFAS in water, but many at the roundtable advocated a non-detectable level.
“PFAS is associated with serious health risks, cancer and impaired immune performance,” Dean said. “We must acknowledge we have a serious problem.
“We were waiting for the EPA to come forward with a maximum contamination level, but Congress is not waiting,” she said. A bipartisan task force has been created and 15 bills introduced, she said.
The chemicals, used in firefighting foam on military bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties, contaminated water supplies in Warrington, Warminster and Horsham, and are believed to have spread to communities downstream, such as Upper Dublin.
Joined by U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, MI-5, co-chair of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, and Paul Tonko, NY-20, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change, Dean pointed to “a need for more robust federal leadership.”
During an earlier tour of the Naval Air Station in Willow Grove, Dean said she saw “an enormous pile of contaminated dirt with no plan of what will happen.”
New Jersey was going to put it in a vault, but the community objected, she said.
“I also saw inadequate water spill protection methods — PFAS still flows off the base daily.”
“We need targeted policy to set goals and standards to move forward,” Tonko said, and “sound federal policy to provide funds for cleanup.
“I’m concerned EPA has punted; it has not developed standards,” he said. “We will push the agency to do that.
Kildee, from Flint, Mich., said like the “initial reaction” to the lead-contaminated water by the state “to try to minimize the danger … many in the federal government” are showing “a lack of urgency to deal with an urgent question of public health.”
“Standards should be based on science not convenience,” Kildee said. “We have a health advisory that is not enforceable and is based on old science.”
Legislation proposed would require the EPA “to bring forward a standard based on science,” he said.
Dean, speaking during a break, said she will introduce a bill to include PFAS in the Toxic Chemical Act, “to provoke the EPA to set a level” of PFAS permitted in water, “be responsible for safe disposal and ban their use in products and manufacturing.”
“Area residents have some of highest levels of PFAS in the country,” said Joanne Stanton of the BuxMont Coalition for Safer Water. Additional studies “to determine outcomes, including cancer” are needed, as well as screenings, she said.
A $10 million nationwide study to determine health effects of PFAS in groundwater “will help answer questions,” she said.
The bills need to be evaluated at hearings “with science based in our discussion,” Tonka said. “The current administration is rejecting science; we will not tolerate that.”
The bills, for the most part, have bipartisan support and many have Senate companion bills, Kildee said.
“We hope we will be able to move something this year.”
At the state level, Rep. Ben Sanchez, D-153, said he has proposed legislation with a 13 ppt. MCL based on the New Jersey standard, and noted state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152, has a bill to have the MCL be set in one year.
“I’m not optimistic,” Sanchez said. “At the state level we have climate change deniers in the majority party in charge of the Energy and Resources Committee. It’s a rejection of science in favor of business.”
The governor has created an Action Team, however, hired a toxicologist, and proposed increased funding for testing, he said.
The Action Team is working “to see that the chemicals are no longer used, and on the disposal problem,” said Lisa Daniels of the PA Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP has adopted 70 ppt. as a groundwater standard, will propose standards for drinking water in the fall, and is “trying to identify safe disposal sites and methods,” she said.
The Air National Guard at Willow Grove acquired some additional funding for a larger treatment system, said Rick Rogers of the EPA Region 3, noting “a lot of water bypasses the treatment unit because it isn’t large enough.”
“The amount of PFAS going offsite is relatively high,” he said. “We’re working with the Air Guard before installing a new treatment system.”
Horsham Township Manager Bill Walker said Horsham, assisted by the Navy in developing a treatment plan, has been at the non-detect level since April 2017, which costs Horsham residents $1.2 million a year, which is “not fair … our residents should bear no cost.”
Noting contamination is also in the soil and aquifers, he said, “We need one contamination plan and someone to clean it up. I realize it will take decades, but we need to start doing it.”
Representatives from Langan, an engineering consultant, said more studies are needed to assess the health effects of PFAS and find practical and cost-effective technology to remediate the soil and treat the water.
“States have tried to do it on their own, but we need a standard across the country,” Dean said. “This is a problem with a solution — everyone taking a responsible role, stopping contamination and doing the cleanup.”