The federal government’s plan to tackle PFAS chemicals, released Thursday, isn’t getting much love from Vermont’s environmental leaders.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s “action plan” for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) “outlines concrete steps the agency is taking to address PFAS and to protect public health,” according to the EPA’s website. The plan can be found at https://bit.ly/2N5lauQ
“I feel very fortunate we are not reliant upon (the EPA) to take action,” said Peter Walke, deputy secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, last week.
Late last month, the ANR announced its own plan to deal with PFAS chemicals, which have been found in wells near the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport in Clarendon, as well as private wells in North Bennington.
In Clarendon, the PFAS chemicals are believed to have come from firefighting foam used to fight a fire at the airport in the past. In North Bennington, the chemicals were byproducts of Teflon manufacturing.
Walke said recently that ANR has begun the rulemaking process to set “maximum contamination levels” for five types of PFAS. The Vermont Department of Health already has “health advisory” limits for the chemicals, but a maximum contamination level from the ANR would create more options for clean-up work.
He said ANR has begun reaching out to people and entities who will be affected by the maximum contamination level. It’s one of the first steps in the rulemaking process, he said.
Walke said the EPA’s action plan won’t have any great impact on Vermont, but many were hoping it would list PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances, allowing for federal “superfund” money to be used in cleaning up contaminated areas.
Walke said this is the first time he’s seen the EPA release an action plan for a chemical and, while this plan lacks specifics, it’s the right tool for the job.
The EPA plan lists a number of actions the agency plans to take. They are:
Expand toxicity information for PFAS
Develop new tools to characterize PFAS in the environment
Evaluate cleanup approaches
Develop guidance to facilitate cleanup of contaminated groundwater
Use enforcement tools to address PFAS exposure in the environment and assist states in enforcement activities
Use legal tools to prevent future PFAS contamination
Address PFAS in drinking water using regulatory and other tools
Others weigh in
“Hundreds of communities across the country, including in Vermont, are dealing with toxic PFOA and other kinds of PFAS chemical contamination in their drinking water,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in an email on Monday. “Not surprisingly, Trump’s EPA has proposed a very weak ‘action plan’ that does not come close to protecting public health and a clean environment. It doesn’t even establish an enforceable drinking water standard for these toxic chemicals. This is not acceptable. The EPA must move aggressively to protect all Americans from these and other toxic chemicals, and Congress and the Trump administration must make a significant and prolonged investment in our aging drinking water infrastructure.”
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said through a spokesperson Monday that the EPA’s action plan is, “... insufficient for the gravity of the threat to drinking water posed by PFAS.”
“EPA has completely failed to protect the public from dangerous PFAS chemicals over the past two decades, and their plan for drinking water is just more foot-dragging,” said Jen Duggan, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation of Vermont, in a statement released Thursday. “EPA has not even committed to setting standards for just two of thousands of toxic PFAS chemicals. We can and must do better. Now more than ever it is clear that Vermont will have to act to protect our drinking water.”
Her remarks came alongside statements from the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
“The threats posed by PFAS chemicals to drinking water are real, significant and here now,” said Jon Groveman, policy and water program director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council. “EPA’s proposal is too little and too slow to address health and environmental impacts on PFAS.”
According to the Conservation Law Foundation, PFAS has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, impaired function of the liver, pancreas and immune system, reproductive problems, thyroid disease, high blood pressure and other health problems.