HARTFORD, CT — The state task force examining PFAS chemicals is recommending widespread testing of public water supplies and studies of contamination sources in response to the growing public health concern over the potentially toxic substances found in thousands of consumer goods.
Scientists and health officials are still studying the long-term effects of exposure to PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances), but the chemicals are pervasive in our environment, our food and our bodies. PFAS are thought to cause higher cholesterol levels, decreased immune response, slower growth and learning, behavioral effects, and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.
The draft report from the panel’s work this summer was released Oct. 1.
The task force established by Gov. Ned Lamont in July includes representatives from 20 state and quasi-public agencies including the Department of Public Health, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Airport Authority, the governor’s office, UConn and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. DPH Commissioner Renée Coleman-Mitchell and DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes were appointed to lead the group.
The task force report includes a series of recommendations to minimize the exposure of Connecticut residents to PFAS, minimize future releases into the environment and address past PFAS contamination. A primary recommendation is Identifying likely contaminated sites.
There are more than 4,700 substances classified as PFAS, and they are used in a staggering number of consumer and industrial products. Fabric softener, pizza boxes, cosmetics, water-resistant clothing, adhesives, non-stick cookware, and food packaging were just a few of the everyday products listed by DEEP officials at the first task force meeting July 30.
“I believe our action plan is going to be a very proactive. Look at what’s happening out there,” said Lori Mathieu, drinking water section chief at DPH and co-chair of the human health subcommittee of the PFAS task force. “We’ve done a lot in a very short period of time and we’re somewhat ahead of where other states are.”
The report’s first recommendation is to conduct testing of the 2,500 water systems, 150 reservoir systems and 4,000 groundwater sources that make up the public water supply in Connecticut. It also recommends testing private wells near any public water sources found to have PFAS contamination, and assessing food sources of PFAS exposure like agricultural production or fish and shellfish.
The report also recommends testing bottled water and requiring producers to use only sources for bottling that are approved by the DPH.
Sections of the task force report deal heavily with firefighting foam, a super-effective fire suppressant but a visible and abundant source of PFAS contamination. Though the state has been studying PFAS extensively since 2016, the massive release of foam into the Farmington River in Windsor through the sewer system after an accidental activation of a fire suppression system in a private hangar at Bradley International Airport brought the task force into being.
Mathieu said this week that the task force’s work primarily focused on human health, remediation and prevention.
“There is no doubt it was about how humans are being affected and how we’re going to find out how people are being exposed,” she said. “We know there’s really a lack of federal action, and we know we need to take action because of the effects on human health and the environment.”
Brian Toal, the other co-chair of the human health subcommittee and interim environmental health section chief at DPH, said food sources are an area of risk still being studied extensively right now. There are limited ways to avoid PFAS products and food containers, because many labels don’t list whether the product contains fluorinated substances, he said.
“Food in general is a significant contributor to the public [exposure],” Toal said. “Everyone has some PFAS in their blood. To a large extent that’s probably from food.”
Lamont gave the task force an Oct. 1 deadline to submit an initial draft. Once public comments are incorporated, a final report will be submitted by Nov. 1.
Toal said only five of the 4,700 PFAS chemicals have been identified as toxic, and there is too little information on the rest to make a definitive conclusion about their health effects. Other states and countries have moved to classify them as as potentially hazardous as a group rather than individually, he said.
“There’s a national push to try to consider all of these as a class of substances that should be regulated,” Toal said.
Lamont has asked the task force to hold a public hearing before its work is finalized, said David Bednarz, a spokesman for the governor.
“Governor Lamont feels that receiving input from the public is a critical component of the mission of this working group, which is why he asked them to hold a hearing before any report becomes finalized. There are many groups and citizens who are understandably concerned about this issue, and the governor wants their input included in the group’s work,” Bednarz said.
The state will be collecting public input on the findings until Oct. 15. Comments can be submitted at or by mail using the instructions at bit.ly/pfas-action-plan-20191001.