Environmental Group Calls Proposed PFC Regulation a "Step Forward"

May 1, 2011
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to require utilities to test drinking water for 28 contaminants currently unregulated by federal law, including six perfluorinated chemicals, a family of toxic industrial chemicals widely found in consumer products.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to require utilities to test drinking water for 28 contaminants currently unregulated by federal law, including six perfluorinated chemicals, a family of toxic industrial chemicals widely found in consumer products.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said this marks a major step forward in the effort to understand and control pollution from perfluorochemicals (PFCs), synthetic industrial chemicals used in a variety of stain-repellent textile coatings, non-stick cookware and water and grease-resistant coatings.

“This contamination, believed to emanate from unregulated industrial discharges, coating residues that wear and wash off consumer goods and leaching of perfluorochemical materials disposed in landfills, could pose a serious threat to public health,” it said.

The environmental group said PFCs, which do not break down in the environment, have polluted drinking water and source water in at least 11 states, according to limited investigations. A comprehensive survey has not been conducted regarding the extent of PFC pollution in drinking water nationwide.

EWG scientist Olga Naidenko said, “Perfluorochemicals have been mainstays of the chemical industry, widely used in consumer products, for 60 years. Efforts to learn the full scope of PFC pollution in the nation’s drinking water are long overdue. EPA’s new water testing proposal will help illuminate one of the more troubling environmental problems this country faces.”

The environmental group said eight major perfluorooctanoic acid makers agreed in 2006 to voluntarily phase-out virtually all U.S. sources of the chemical by 2015, but it is still used in factories overseas and may be in imported cookware and other consumer products available on the U.S. market.

EWG said another perfluorchemical on the EPA testing list, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, is linked to cancer in lab animals and developmental toxicity. It was used in Scotchgard and other fabric coatings until 2000, when 3M, the only U.S. manufacturer, accepted a voluntary agreement with the EPA to phase it out.

NAWC Lobbying Effort

More than 50 members of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) lobbied Congress in March regarding environmental, finance and tax issues.

The NAWC members urged Congress to support legislation to expand the use and availability of tax-exempt financing for water projects. The association said removing existing restrictions to this financing would allow an estimated $5-6 billion in private capital to be deployed toward water infrastructure projects.

They asked legislators to reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which they said would enable private water service providers to extend wastewater solutions and services to under-served communities and non-compliant systems.

And the NAWC members recommended that Congress consider legislation to develop an infrastructure bank that would act as a real bank and encourage public-private partnerships.

“Every day, private water companies help provide essential water and wastewater services to nearly 73 million people in the U.S. That’s almost one quarter of our nation’s population,” said NAWC Executive Director Michael Deane.

“It’s vital that we continue the dialogue with our elected officials on the importance of sustainable water infrastructure and the benefits of public-private partnerships. Local investment in water infrastructure not only sustains community development and improves system performance, it supports job creation.”

Water Quality Concerns

The Water Quality Association (WQA) said a survey has found Americans are increasingly concerned about the quality of their water.

The poll, conducted by Applied Research-West Inc., found that 49% of respondents were concerned or very concerned about their household water supply, 54% were concerned about health contaminants in tap water, and 42% thought drinking water is not as safe as it should be.

The survey found a quarter of consumers were “extremely concerned” about the quality of their water supply and only 45% were confident their water source poses no health risk.

A majority of consumers are now willing to pay more for the elimination of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, compared to less than 50% in a 2008 survey. The survey showed that 39% of respondents stated that they believed federal drinking water quality laws are “fair.”

WQA said 19% of the respondents were exposed to “boil water alerts” and more than half of them subsequently purchased a home filtration device, up from 38% who did so in 2008.

Peter Censky, WQA executive director, said, “We are seeing people become more educated about water issues and finding ways to ensure water quality for their families.”

Separately, the Nature Conservancy has reported that a poll it commissioned found that 75% of Americans do not know the source of their drinking water.

The group said most Americans are unaware of the roles that lakes, streams and aquifers play in providing clean and dependable water.

Jeff Opperman, a freshwater scientist with the conservancy, said, “I don’t think the take-home message is people are ignorant. It’s more of a testament to the great engineering accomplishment of our water system.”

In other Washington news:

EPA said Toppenish, WA, will pay a $134,500 fine for emissions of ammonia, zinc and copper from its sewage treatment plant in 2008-2010. It said the city has replaced faulty equipment and has been in compliance since then.

The agency gave Bryan, TX, $485,000 to help replace the aging Turkey Creek wastewater treatment plant. A new Thompsons Creek plant will be built to serve the southwest portion of the city.

Seven East San Francisco Bay municipalities have agreed to a settlement to reduce sewage overflows to the bay, especially during rain events. EPA said the municipalities will update aging infrastructure and collection systems that have been major contributors to the overflows.

EPA has released a mapping tool to help the public compare water quality trends over the last two years. The web-based, interactive map includes “state dashboards” that give detailed information on facilities that are violating the Clean Water Act and actions that states are taking to enforce the law.

The agency said Farmington, MO, will pay $61,566 penalty for allowing excess nickel levels in sewage sludge that was applied to farms in four counties and for high ammonia levels in discharged wastewater.

The Water Environment Research Foundation is offering $100,000 to encourage scientists working in wastewater, water reuse, biosolids, stormwater, watersheds, and other areas to pursue groundbreaking studies.


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