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Local Outrage Over Report On Supressed PFAS Study


An article published in Politicoearlier this week revealed federal officials sought to block a report on PFAS chemicals, pollutants found in water sources in some local communities. The story is drawing strong reaction from environmental advocates and political leaders.

The article published in Politico on May 14th revealed that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the White House, and Department of Defense sought to block the release of a study into PFAS chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, which have been found in New York communities like Hoosick Falls, Petersburgh and Newburgh, and Bennington, Vermont.

In one email, Politico reports a Trump administration aide said the release of the study that would reportedly call for a lower health advisory level for PFAS chemicals would cause a “public relations nightmare.”

In the days following the report, political leaders like Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with senators from other states dealing with PFAS pollution, blasted the administration.

Local activists are expressing disbelief.

Michelle O’Leary, a Hoosick Falls resident, is part of a group called NY Water Project. Group members recently met with Regional EPA Administrator Pete Lopez.

“It’s really upsetting for us. The people that should be in charge of protecting communities’ health…isn’t really looking out for the best interest. And we have to wonder if it has to deal who’s affiliated with the chemical corporations. Like, whose best interest are they working for?” asked O’Leary.

Former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, who was featured in the Politico article and is also a regular voice on WAMC, called the actions by EPA and the Department of Defense “scientific censorship” of the report being compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

While critical of the recent move by Pruitt’s EPA to limit the scientific research used in policy making, Enck expressed support for research methods conducted by ATSDR.

“My experience working with that agency when I was in the federal government is that they are precise, they use scientific rigor, they’re just very, very slow,” said Enck. “So I think they were poised to make this recommendation about five months ago, and it worries me that their number has not been released and I’m worried that it’s because of political interference from, of all places, Scott Pruitt’s EPA.”

Enck said she understands the concerns from the Department of Defense. She predicted DOD would be named polluters in cases where PFOS, linked to firefighting foam used at military installations, leaked into water supplies, such as in Newburgh.

The EPA has scheduled a “National Leadership Summit” on PFAS chemicals next week in Washington.

According to the agency, the purpose of the summit is to:

  • Share information on ongoing efforts to characterize risks from PFAS and develop monitoring and treatment/cleanup techniques;
  • Identify specific near-term actions, beyond those already underway, that are needed to address challenges currently facing states and local communities; and
  • Develop risk communication strategies to address public concerns with PFAS.

Representatives from state government, including New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, are expected to be in attendance.
NYSDEC Deputy Commissioner Martin Brand said he hopes to hear details on action steps the EPA will take to address PFAS contamination.

“We’re going with expectations that there will be an open and productive discussion on the challenges that are facing the nation from the threat of emerging contaminants. We hope to hear from our counterparts in other states and what their concerns are,” said Brand.

But Dr. David Bond, who has been part of a team studying PFAS chemicals at Bennington College, was not extended an invitation.

Bond points out that PFOA was voluntarily phased out of U.S. manufacturing in 2015. He says while the problems associated with PFOA contamination persist, profit margins do not.

“I think the Pruitt administration thought PFOA could be an easy stage to perform environmental governance at no real cost to his corporate sponsors. Pruitt can sort of take a hard stand on PFOA while systematically dismantling EPA behind the scenes,” said Bond.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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