WWMT West Michigan: Peters promises to 'press' EPA and DoD on PFAS to continue mitigation

A Senate subcommittee put PFAS in the spotlight Wednesday afternoon and heard from a variety of federal agencies to determine what’s next and what role the federal government plays in this contamination crisis.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

The latest confirmation of these toxic PFAS chemicals came from Parchment this summer, but Oscoda, on the banks of Lake Huron, has seen the dangerous chemicals from the defunct Wurtsmith Air Force Base for years.

As the ranking member, Peters directed questions to members of the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, National Institute of Health and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

His main point was what can the federal government do about this known issue.

Dr. Peter Grevatt, director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water at the EPA, told the room the agency is years away from implementing any federal regulation for drinking water.

Perpolyfluroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the chemicals grouped together known as PFAS and PFOA, include thousands of different chemical compounds that are found in firefighting foam, many non-stick cookware surfaces and even in some clothing and upholstery. The Department of Defense has agreed to stop using a foam known to contain PFAS in training and exercises. Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, said there is not a foam currently available that is PFAS-free and meets military standards.

“The Navy [which is the group that sets standards] told us if a PFAS-free foam meets the specifications, we will include it,” said Defense Capabilities and Management at the GAP Director Brian Lepore. “As of June 2018, the Navy says there are no PFAS-free foam.”

The lasting health concerns pose more questions as Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Linda Birnbaum explained the PFAS chemicals do not break down naturally.

“PFAS are extremely stable and exist for a long time,” Birnbaum said. “And humans are exposed through many pathways.”

Those pathways came to new light during the hearing. Birnbaum said exposure can occur with skin contact; starkly different than what the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said when contamination was found in Parchment. The MDEQ tells people it’s safe to wash clothes and bathe in PFAS contaminated water. This difference, is part of the problem, according to Peters.

“We have to get everyone together and talking about the same things, and I think that’s what this hearing was really all about,” Peters said. “I think this goes to show that we don’t know enough about this and need more studies.”

The EPA has planned two days of round table discussions in Michigan to bring together stakeholders and community members to hear from them about this issue. Those meetings have been scheduled for October 4 and October 5 with locations to be determined.

Democratic Senators from New Hampshire Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen both spoke about their state’s experience with PFAS as well as the other Democrats on the committee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D – CA) and Sen. Doug Jones (D – AL).

The EPA said they expect to have new findings released by this fall. Peters said he will ensure Congress holds the EPA and DoD accountable and keep their promises.

“We’ve heard that before and those deadlines just continue to slip away and they slip away and congress needs to stay on this and we need to make sure those deadlines slip any further,” Peters said.

The public can submit comments and questions for the subcommittee or the witnesses that testified until October 11, 2018.

By:  Mikenzie Frost
Source: WWMT West Michigan