Massachusetts Scarred by “Forever Chemical” Contamination

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For Immediate Release: Mar 06, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Massachusetts Scarred by “Forever Chemical” Contamination

Bay State’s Widespread and Severe PFAS Levels Are Test for New EPA Action Plan

Boston — Massachusetts is at the forefront of the latest clean water crisis to plague the U.S. Townships across the Commonwealth have widespread and some of the most severe contamination levels from toxic chemicals contained in firefighting foam and in water, grease, and stain resistant products, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The more than 4,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are called PFAS and are associated with birth defects, developmental damage to infants, the liver, kidneys, and the immune system, as well as a cancer risk. Importantly, PFAS do not break down in the environment (hence the “forever chemical” label) and they bioaccumulate in the food chain.

There is no enforceable standard for PFAS in drinking water nationally or in Massachusetts. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for two of the chemicals, the potency of these compounds is reflected by scientists suggesting a 1 ppt limit to protect human health. Last week, EPA unveiled a belated “Action Plan” for PFAS to tepid reviews.

Groundwater sampling shows Massachusetts to be one of the most PFAS-impacted states:

  • PFAS compounds were detected in 13 public drinking water supplies, 9 of which were above the EPA advisory, although only 49% of towns and cities in Massachusetts have had some or all drinking water sources tested;
  • The Ayer and Devens area, arguably the worst hotspot in Massachusetts, has detected levels as high as 39,000 ppt, and in public drinking water wells of 85 to 134 ppt; and
  • Some affected towns, such as Ayer, must spend millions for alternate sources of drinking water and to treat existing contamination.

“These off-the-charts PFAS levels represent a direct and immediate threat to the public health of the Commonwealth,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Unfortunately, Massachusetts is acting to counter the PFAS crisis without much deliberate speed.”

In recent weeks –

  • Governor Charlie Baker pocket-vetoed a bill to ban other toxic flame-retardant chemicals in household goods;
  • The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection announced that it would promulgate maximum contamination levels for an unknown number of PFAS compounds, but it is unknown whether the levels would be protective of human health; and
  • DEP rejected a petition to adopt standards for treatment techniques to cleanse drinking water.

The EPA Action Plan calls for unspecified steps during 2019 to “Hold responsible parties accountable for PFAS releases into the environment” and to “Provide guidance for groundwater cleanup.”

“To date, no one in Massachusetts has been held accountable for PFAS pollution nor is there a single approved groundwater cleanup plan,” added Bennett, noting that PEER is developing a PFAS enforcement and public education campaign. “Without greater focus and urgency, Bay Staters will be drinking these toxic chemicals for a generation.”


Look to see if your town has been tested

See the PFAS footprint in Massachusetts

Examine new EPA Action Plan for PFAS

View Mass. DEP announcement it would set an MCL on PFAS

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