Long before the “massive” contamination of a portion of Merrimack New Hampshire’s water supply, I was aware of PFOA’s. The Teflon adhering chemistry was already on the radar of the usual suspects as a potential source of easy revenue, actual science be damned, through media sensationalism, scare-tactics, and inevitably – lawsuits.
Yes, PFOA’s can, in instances of significant exposure, cause serious health issues. But so can any number of everyday products.
When such “circumstances” arise, we must concern ourselves with not just what “contaminant” is involved but what government agencies will decide is “significant,” not so much in the interest of public health, but as an opportunity to plunder someone for easy money after scaring the public half-to-death over what may actually amount to nothing.
New Hampshire sued oil companies for complying with a federal law that required them to blend an EPA approved additive to their gasoline. They sued them for clean up costs when a fund existed in an account managed by the EPA, paid for in advance by you and I, in the event of leaks from underground storage tanks. They didn’t need to sue anybody, but if anyone were responsible, it was owner-operators whose tanks were supposed to have leaked.
Greedy New Hampshire chose to target big oil in the hope of a jackpot verdict in a state judicial system inclined to grant it. They got their wish, and one way or another customers will be made to pay again (we already pay a tax into the LUST fund) so greedy New Hampshire can collect its fraudulent payday.
Misleading or incomplete science costs consumers and taxpayers millions or even billions as a result of lawsuits drummed up in the wake of “Health-Threats” sensationalized by a media that makes bank off them but never has to pay the price for the shotty science they peddle.
PFOA is used predominantly in the manufacture of Teflon-coated cookware but is not present or absorbed by using the finished product. But back in 2004/2005 the media discovered and then reported the relationship between them and spun up a public health scare. Government involvement was inevitable, with the EPA ultimately pressuring Dupont and others to sign on to an expensive years-long process to eliminate PFOA use as the solution to what was essentially a non-problem.
There are several scientific and health issues that have been ignored or avoided in this current plan to eliminate PFOA: first, there is no evidence that PFOA has any adverse effect on human health at levels to which we are typically exposed (see ACSH’s publication on PFOA and health). Even workers at plants where Teflon and other consumer products using PFOA are made have shown no increase in the incidence of any diseases, including cancer.
Back in New Hampshire, we need to understand and accept that the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) is NOT a disinterested third party. NHDES is always looking for new revenue opportunities as is the State of New Hampshire. The conflict comes when the “experts” acting in their own interest or under political pressure or as a result of hyped up public pressure (like this) define contamination levels that are more favorable to budget padding, or even litigation and payoffs than environmental reality.
One study indicated that the greatest amount of administered PFOA that does not cause adverse effects is 10 mg/kg/day in female rats and 3mg/kg/day in male rats. (16) However, others suggest that this level is lower because doses of0.5 to 1 mg/kg/day (500 to 1000 micrograms/kg/day) of PFOA were associated with liver effects on laboratory animals. (18) As discussed earlier, the highest level of PFOA that has been measured in water is approximately 10 ppb (10micrograms/liter). Therefore, in order to reach even the lower estimate of the amount of CFO suspected to cause adverse effects (500 micro-grams/kg/day), the average person (of 70 kg)would need to drink more than 3,500 liters of this most highly contaminated water daily.** Using water intake and weight guidelines for children, a similar calculation would also indicate a margin of safety that is somewhat smaller but still very large.
Workers subjected to higher concentrations and long-term exposure have been recorded with anywhere from 1-10 parts per million in their blood with no greater incidence of associated health problems than people who have little to no exposure. So what did they find in Merrimack besides Erin Brokavitch? In Mid- 2016, (emphasis mine)
The test results show levels of PFOA from 17 to 820 parts per trillion. Test results from the Merrimack Village Water District ranged from 17 to 90 parts per trillion.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set an enforceable drinking water standard for PFOA under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, according to the NH DES. EPA’s Office of Water has, however, established a Provisional Health Advisory (PHA) of 0.4 micrograms per liter (?g/L) or 400 parts per trillion for PFOA.
There is no legitimate scientific or real-world basis for setting that threshold. We’re looking at a government imposed limit of parts per trillion in a world where parts per billion have been proven safe, and parts per million have yet to provide evidence of serious health risk. And yet, the NHDES sets its preliminary benchmark at 400 parts per trillion?
Merrimack isn’t showing any uptick in health problems after exposure because, unless the test results are incorrect, we’re not anywhere near (as in nowhere near) the concentrations required to be an actual health threat.
That doesn’t mean the Saint-Gobain plant isn’t at fault for the leak or isn’t responsible for some cleanup, remediation, or other means of preventing potential exposure risks. The town and state certainly have a role to play there. And to the best of my knowledge, the property owners have been very cooperative.
What concerns me is that the NHDES and or the EPA will set that absurd preliminary standard in stone, driving up the cost of doing business in New Hampshire for no good reason whatsoever, while inviting unnecessary litigation from every direction not to mention stressing out the public.
New Hampshire has some history here. We have reason to be concerned about what the state is ultimately hoping to accomplish since it would not necessarily have anything to do with “protecting” the public health.