U.S. drinking water widely contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’: environment watchdog

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The contamination of U.S. drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group.

The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems.

The findings by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report.

The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.

Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington D.C., only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700 foot (215 m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.

In addition, EWG found that on average six to seven PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, and the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said.

In 34 places where EWG’s tests found PFAS, contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies.

The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA said it has helped states and communities address PFAS and that it is working to put limits on the two main chemicals but did not give a timeline.

In 2018 a draft report from an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Sept. 11 victims advocates say they secured Senate commitment to extend compensation fund

A girl walks through a memorial for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the 15th anniversary, in Malibu, California, September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Advocates of a compensation fund for emergency personnel and others who responded at the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States said on Tuesday that they had secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for prompt passage of legislation extending the program.

John Feal, who heads a group lobbying Congress to authorize the fund through 2090, emerged from the meeting in McConnell’s office telling reporters that the Republican senator agreed to win Senate passage of a bill by August, when lawmakers typically leave Washington for a long summer recess.

“We came in here praying for the best, prepared for the worst. We were ready to shake hands or we were ready to get into a street fight,” Feal said.

“Today was a good meeting,” Feal added.

McConnell aides would not confirm the timetable for passing a bill or that it would be a 70-year extension of the fund instead of a five-year authorization as in past years.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, McConnell told reporters, “As I’ve said repeatedly, we’re certainly going to address this issue.”

As a result of working around hazardous materials at three sites in the aftermath of the hijacked plane attacks nearly 18 years ago, emergency personnel and others have contracted lung ailments, cancers and other diseases.

On June 12 the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved a 70-year extension of the fund.

It is designed to help provide medical care for more than 95,000 firemen, police officers and other first responders and laborers who worked at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center twin towers in New York, the damaged Pentagon just outside Washington and a field in western Pennsylvania where one of the planes crashed after passengers fought with hijackers.

In the past, some members of Congress have complained about the high cost of helping victims of Sept. 11 at a time of severe U.S. budget deficits.

Feal said that during Tuesday’s meeting with McConnell, he and fellow advocates “revisited” the battles in Congress in 2010 and 2015 for renewing the compensation fund and “we let him (McConnell) know that he wasn’t on board” back then.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Grant McCool)