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A Review of PFAS in 2018

Ohio Environmental Council, December 21, 2018

For more than 70 years, synthetic and potentially hazardous chemicals known as Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have plagued waterways around the country, including a few high profile examples in Ohio. In 1984, DuPont discovered leaching of PFOA (a common PFAS) from their waste disposal ponds, which flow into the Ohio River, and contaminated the drinking water of surrounding communities like Little Hocking in southeast Ohio.

It was not until 2001 that the residents of Little Hocking learned they were being poisoned. Although the lawsuit that followed had DuPont paying for years to come, contamination still continues to this day.

In the 18 years since the residents of Little Hocking discovered PFOA in their water, neither the U.S. nor Ohio EPAs have passed regulations to control this chemical or any of its close to 4,700 friends. Congress also failed to ratify the Stockholm Convention of Persistent Organic Pollutants, which includes two PFAS components.

Two years ago, at the very least, the U.S. EPA issued a non-binding Health Advisory for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most common PFAS found in our drinking water. While this is a start, an advisory is voluntary; there is no law that stops companies from releasing these chemicals into your water or that requires testing for PFAS in your water supply.

Thankfully, due to renewed commitment from lawmakers, litigators, and regulators including the Ohio EPA, 2018 has brought us closer to finally establishing regulations that protect the drinking water and environment of Americans and Ohioans.

February: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed (another) lawsuit against DuPont for contamination from PFOA.

March: Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters (D-MI), and Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI-05) proposed a budget bill to address ongoing drinking water contamination issues from PFAS in communities across Michigan.

April: The OEC filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the U.S. EPA, seeking a set of regulations covering PFOA and other PFAS, including specific maximum contaminant levels.

May: The U.S. EPA hosted the PFAS National Leadership Summit and Engagement to begin dialogue about best practices for PFAS management. At the summit, the U.S. EPA announced that it will develop a National PFAS Management Plan by the end of 2018 that will determine if regulation is necessary. Ohio EPA Director, Craig Butler, gave one of the keynote addresses, speaking on the importance of state governments taking the charge on this matter with guidance of the U.S. government. He made it clear that Ohio will be a leader in tackling PFAS contamination and regulation.

August: Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the PFAS Accountability Act of 2018. The bill was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

September: Three important events happened in September:

  1. The House held a hearing on Perfluorinated Chemicals in the Environment: An Update on the Response to the Contamination and Challenges Presented.
  2. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI-6) introduced the PFAS Federal Facility Accountability Act of 2018.
  3. The Senate held a hearing on The Federal Role in the Toxic PFAS Chemical Crisis.

October: Attorney Robert Bilott, who filed the original lawsuit against DuPont in the early 2000s, filed a class action lawsuit against 3M, Chemours, DuPont, and other makers of PFAS on behalf of Ohio firefighter Kevin Hardwick and every person in the U.S. who has PFAS in their blood.

As the year draws to a close, we are still waiting to read the U.S. EPA’s National PFAS Management Plan, for the bills to pass out of committee, and for the verdicts in the courts.

2018 has brought us conversation, legislation, litigation and prioritization on the issue of PFAS. We enter 2019 with optimism that the Ohio EPA will fulfill their commitment to lead the way on PFAS in Ohio.

This blog was written by Marissa Lazaroff, an intern at the Ohio Environmental Council.