WINDSOR, CT — Standing on the banks of the Farmington River, Attorney General William Tong, state and local officials, and environmentalists maintained their commitment Thursday to making sure the accidental spill of firefighting foam in June didn’t permanently harm the waterway.
At the same time, they are still trying to learn the impact the chemical has on the environment and human health in general.
The risk from per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, has become urgent since the accidental spill of firefighting foam from a business operating a hanger at Bradley International Airport in early June. Tens of thousands of gallons of the foam entered the Farmington River in Windsor through sewer systems, prompting warnings from state agencies about using the water.
Officials from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said they are still waiting on the results of several tests.
Ray Frigon, assistant director with DEEP’s remediation division, said they are continuing to test surface water quality, but at the moment its safe for boating and swimming.
The Department of Public Health has not lifted the ban on fish consumption from the Farmington River.
Test results on fish tissue samples conducted by a lab in Canada are not expected back until September.
“There are a limited number of laboratories that test for PFAS and testing for PFAS in fish tissue is even more complicated,” Frigon said.
Brian Toal, supervising epidemiologist with DPH, said they have decided to do two rounds of fish tissue testing because it takes time for the chemical to show up. He said they want to be cautious.
“We’re not sure it’s in the fish, but if it is it could take quite awhile to get into the fish,” Toal said.
Toal said there have been a number of studies to look at the impact PFAS has on humans. One of the biggest studies, Toal said, shows detrimental health impacts “associated with PFAS,” but not directly tied to the chemical.
“Low birth-weight, slower growth, learning disabilities, decreased immune function and the possibility of kidney and testicular cancer,” Toal said listing the associated impact found by the studies. “Those are not proven cause-and-effect, those are associations.”
Tong said it’s hard to take action against this dangerous chemical without all of the data.
“The way I understand it is that it’s basically an industrial, commercially and consumer product-related Teflon,” Tong said.
It’s also been described as a “forever chemical.”
“We’re all trying to understand the depth of the problem here in Connecticut,” Tong said.
Toal said they are testing other bodies of water in Connecticut too to see if PFAS is present.
Windsor Mayor Don Trinks said they’ve lost recreational opportunities this year on the river due to the spill.
“Let’s just get this banned,” Trinks said. “We don’t need it anymore.”
Tong said he has not taken any legal action against the private company that used the firefighting foam at Bradley International Airport.
Gov. Ned Lamont created a task force to study the chemical and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been taking action at the federal level.
The PFAS task force is expected to complete its report by October.
Meanwhile. Blumenthal has sponsored an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set and enforce drinking water limits for two of the most dangerous chemicals in the PFAS class.
It would also require all companies producing PFAS chemicals to report the chemical name and composition to the EPA by 2022. The legislation authorizes $100 million to remediate PFAS-contaminated drinking water for individuals on private wells and $45 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to develop PFAS testing methods.
Tong said it would be nice to see more federal resources directed at this issue since it really is a national one.