New MassDEP PFAS guidance values a step in the right direction, but still not strong enough
For Immediate Release, June 13, 2018
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Boston, Massachusetts — On Friday, MassDEP adopted new state guidance values for five different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) in drinking water, setting more health-protective guidance for these chemicals poisoning the drinking water of tens of thousands of Bay-Staters. The new guidance requires that public drinking water cannot have more than 70 ppt total either individually or in combination for the following five PFAS compounds: PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFHpA. These new guidance values are a good first step in the right direction but they don’t go far enough.
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals linked to reproductive cancers, kidney disorders, decreased immunity and other serious health problems. The chemicals are known for their non-stick properties and are found in products like Teflon and GoreTex along with fire-fighting foams (AFFF). Many communities in Massachusetts, including Ayer, Devens, Westfield and Hyannis, are facing water contamination likely from the use of AFFF at military bases, airports, and fire-fighting training academies now affecting local water supplies.
Scientists and residents think that the new state guidance of 70 ppt for this group of chemicals is still too high. Indeed, some states have set much lower standards for PFAS. New Jersey’s state standard sets a limit of 14 ppt for PFOA and is considering a limit of 13 ppt for PFNA. The Vermont Department of Health recommends that the sum of the same five compounds under the new Massachusetts guidance values (PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFHpA and PFNA) not exceed 20 ppt individually or in combination in drinking water.
“We are heartened to see Massachusetts taking action around PFAS because we need to take these chemicals seriously,” said Mary Jones of Toxics Action Center, “but these guidance values are like a net with gaping holes. We know that dangerous amounts of PFAS chemicals in our water will slip right through them, and we worry about giving the public a false sense of security.”
“From a precautionary, public health point of view, the recommended levels in drinking water should be as low as possible,” said Richard Clapp, Professor Emeritus at B.U. School of Public Health. “If some PFAS compounds are eventually considered carcinogenic, then the goal should be zero in our drinking water.”
Although the EPA has published a health advisory for two of these chemicals (70 ppt each for PFOA and PFOS), there is currently no federal enforceable drinking water standard (a maximum contaminant level or MCL) for any PFAS chemicals. An MCL establishes a hard legal limit for the amount certain chemicals are allowed in public drinking water throughout the United States under that Safe Drinking Water Act. Without leadership from EPA, state agencies, like MassDEP, have been left to create their own guidance and standards regarding what is allowed in pubic drinking water.
While Massachusetts is taking a step in the right direction by setting state guidance values for PFAS, experts and communities that have already experienced PFAS contamination in their water know that allowing drinking water to contain 70 ppt of these chemicals will continue to leave affected families at risk.
Another concern with the new guidance is that it does not cover enough compounds under the PFAS umbrella, which includes over 3,000 individual chemicals that share a very similar chemical structure and properties. “If testing doesn’t include all PFASs, we’re still in the dark about the safety of our drinking water,” said Sue Phelan, Director of GreenCAPE on Cape Cod. “Perfluorinated chemicals should be regulated as a class.”
“We are very encouraged that MassDEP has taken this first step,” Kristen Mello, co-founding member of Westfield Residents Advocating For Themselves stated. “Considering the cocktail of PFAS left in our water from decades of AFFF use – some of which we can’t even detect yet – a lower limit for a combined total of all PFAS would be the most protective of the public health, particularly for those of us with decades of exposure under our belts.”
Toxics Action Center works side-by-side with communities to prevent or clean up pollution in New England. Learn more at www.toxicsaction.org.