PFAS, which stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, is used in a wide variety of industrial and consumer products. PFAS compounds have been used fire suppression foams, non-stick cookware, rain gear, stain-resistant carpet, and grease resistant food packaging like pizza boxes. Officials said these chemicals are now “omnipresent in the environment” and are found in the blood of nearly all humans.
Studies have linked PFAS to increased cholesterol levels, immune system problems, decreases in childhood growth and development, and some research has indicated higher levels of these chemicals may be associated with kidney and testicular cancer.
A major PFAS concern around the nation is that these man-made compounds accumulate in humans and animals and persist so long in the environment that they’ve been nicknamed “forever chemicals.”
Katie Dykes, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said there are currently no enforceable state or federal drinking water standards for these types of chemicals.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been very slow to act,” Dykes, one of the chairs of the task force formed by Gov. Ned Lamont. She said the lack of federal safety standards and testing procedures for PFAS is a major problem.
“It complicates our efforts not to have that leadership,” Dykes said, who is co-chair of the task force along with state Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell.
State Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 21 other state attorneys general urging Congress to pass legislation help states around the nation cope with PFAS pollution and to provide funding to aid in paying for clean up of polluted drinking water systems.
Coleman-Mitchell repeatedly warned those gathered at Tuesday’s meeting that the task force will need to complete a vast amount of work to complete its report to the governor by Oct. 1. She said Lamont is expecting an action plan that will include recommendations for new legislation to protect human health and the environment from PFAS.
“This is not one of those plans that will sit on a shelf and collect dust,” Coleman-Mitchell said.
“I know you’re all just in shock at how much work you’ll be doing,” Dykes said. “I’m sure no one’s planning on vacation.”
Coleman-Mitchell said the task force needs to identify potential sources of PFAS contamination, recommend standards for drinking water, establish criteria for cleanup of water and soil, find non-toxic alternatives to the PFAS firefighting foam that federal authorities now require be used at airports.
Other tasks include planning for additional testing of fish, shellfish and agricultural products and finding ways to collect and dispose of the thousands of gallons of firefighting foam now stored around the state at local and state fire facilities.
Those attending Tuesday’s meeting at the headquarters of the state Department of Transportation included representatives of 17 different state agencies and offices, local fire and health officials from around Connecticut, and at least three state lawmakers.