WINDSOR, CT – Earlier this month Congress approved a $295-million expenditure to study and clean up PFAS contaminations across the nation, but U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday that it’s only a first step.
PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are potentially hazardous substances found in thousands of consumer products. The man-made chemicals are resistant to heat, water, and oil and are persistent in the environment and the human body.
Blumenthal said there’s currently no federal standard for how much PFAS is allowed in drinking water, but at least $3 million has been set aside for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop guidelines for drinking water standards.
“This is real money, for a real problem, demanding real action,” Blumenthal said at a press conference at Windsor Town Hall.
Connecticut, which is struggling with known PFAS contamination around several of its landfills, may be eligible for some of the federal aid to test drinking water around the state.
The federal budget requires the EPA to report to Congress in 60 days with a plan for how it will create the drinking water standards. The current federal advisory is that there should be no more than 70 parts per trillion of PFAS compounds in drinking water, but states have started enacting their own tougher standards.
Earlier this year, Vermont enacted a law requiring public water systems, beginning by December 1, 2019, to monitor their water supplies to ensure they do not exceed 20 ppt for five PFAS chemicals.
Connecticut’s General Assembly took no action this year on PFAS.
A bill that would prohibit the use of PFAS in food packaging and firefighter foam was never raised for a public hearing, and a bill that prohibited the use of firefighting foam for training and testing purposes was referred to the House and then to the Appropriations Committee, which took no action and thus allowed the bill to die on the calendar.
However, Gov. Ned Lamont created a special task force this summer to study the issue and make recommendations.
The report’s first recommendation was 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 recommended 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.
Anne Hulick, the Connecticut director for Clean Water Action, said the state is “quickly learning the cost of that plan.”
She said the testing and clean up of the pollution the state is responsible for is in the millions of dollars.
“These chemicals are linked to various cancers,” Hulick said. “We know these chemicals have direct impact on health and serious consequences.”
She said it’s a top public health concern in Connecticut and across the country.
She called the funding – which includes $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control, $20 million in grants to states, and $250 million for clean up – “a huge step forward.”
Bill Lucey, the state’s Long Island Soundkeeper, said that seeing the funding in the federal budget means that people are starting to take the situation seriously.
Lucey pointed out that the dangers from PFAS chemicals were first reported 50 years ago.
He said there needs to be a “speed limit” for PFAS chemicals so that people know when they turn on the water it’s going to be safe to drink.
“How big a problem is it? We really don’t know yet,” Lucey said.
Can the Trump EPA be trusted to get the work done?
“Unfortunately the Trump administration has been more part of the problem than the solution on so many environmental issues,” Blumenthal said. “So we will have to sustain oversight and advocacy in the Congress to make sure the promise of this funding is fulfilled.”
On the other hand, Blumenthal said the issue has bipartisan support in Congress.
As far as the Trump administration is concerned, Blumenthal said the administration will have to be persuaded.
“They should at least accept the need for these drinking water standards and pursue them,” Blumenthal said.
He expects the guidelines to be developed within 60 days and the drinking water standards to be finalized within a year.