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College of Saint Rose in Albany makes closure official

Following PFAS Summit, EPA Will Take Steps To Address Contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency logo
The Environmental Protection Agency

A national summit on PFAS chemicals was held in Washington, D.C. this week. Convened by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the two-day event sought input on pollution including PFOA and PFOS, which have been discovered in several communities in our region.

On Tuesday, the first day of the National Leadership Summit on PFAS chemicals, the EPA released a four-step action plan to address the contamination that has been discovered in communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, New York and Bennington, Vermont.

The new steps are as follows:

  • EPA will initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS. We will convene our federal partners and examine everything we know about PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
  • EPA is beginning the necessary steps to propose designating PFOA and PFOS as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including potentially CERCLA Section 102.
  • EPA is currently developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites and will complete this task by fall of this year. 
  • EPA is taking action in close collaboration with our federal and state partners to develop toxicity values for GenX and PFBS.

Representatives from state governments dealing with the issue were among those invited. Select reporters, like CNN and the AP, were not allowed into the summit.  
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke traveled to Washington. Nobody from Bennington, where PFOA has been discovered in private wells, was invited.

“Those communities who have been living this crisis really need to be heard and have the opportunity to pass on what they’ve learned and what their experiences are,” said Walke.

The state of Vermont is among entities seeking maximum contaminant levels for chemicals like PFOA and PFOS. Vermont has set its own action level for the contaminants at 20 parts per trillion. EPA has a health advisory level at 70 parts per trillion. New York has adopted the 70 parts per trillion threshold for communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh.

An EPA press release announced that listening sessions would be held in states affected by PFAS contamination, including New Hampshire and Michigan.

Hoosick Falls Mayor Rob Allen attended the summit with an assist from EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez. Lopez traveled to the Rensselaer County village in recent weeks to meet with the mayor and affected residents.

Allen sat down with Administrator Pruitt during the event.

“He listened, I communicated a  little bit about the Hoosick Falls experience that we’ve had, how it’s been an emotional rollercoaster but how we’ve also been focused on getting some goals for not just our village but for the national conversation that seems to have finally arrived for this class of chemicals,” said Allen.

The summit came after a report was published in Politico on May 14th showing federal officials sought to suppress a study into PFAS chemicals, fearing a “public relations nightmare.”

Allen said Administrator Pruitt told him that he was not aware of the federal study.

Former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, a regular voice on WAMC, says that may be true.

“But it was his staff that were trying to sink the study, and as soon as he read the article, he should have called the staff in, he should have considered firing them, which he didn’t do, of course, and he should have said ‘Take your foot of the study, let’s get it out there so the public has the information.’”

As the EPA says it will travel to affected communities, Enck says the Regional Administrators can play an important role in gathering information.

She believes, however, that enough information is out there for EPA to act swiftly in setting a maximum contaminant level for and labeling PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances.

“I mean, I’m quite disappointed that the agency is using language like they’re going to ‘initiate steps to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level.’ I mean, that’s been happening at EPA for over 10 years so there’s nothing new there,” said Enck.

Asked by WAMC if New York would be added to the list of future site visits, EPA responded with a statement saying it’s “in the process of identifying states and communities for the upcoming community engagement process.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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