State task force facing grim PFAS chemical pollution challenges

Source:, July 30, 2019
By: Gregory B. Hladky

More than 100 state and local officials worried about pollution from potentially toxic PFAS chemicals crowded into a meeting room Tuesday to hear a grim review of the situation in Connecticut from a new state task force.

There were warnings about the need to test around airports where PFAS firefighting foam has been used, at closed landfills where PFAS could be leaching into the soil, industrial sites where these chemical compounds may be found, and the dangers from PFAS air pollution and ground water contamination.

“PFAS presents a unique threat to our drinking water supplies,” Lori Matthieu, head of the state Department of Public Health’s drinking water unit, said. She said Connecticut has more than 300,000 private wells serving 800,000 residents that could be at risk.
The state has not found significant contamination from these chemicals in major public drinking water systems, but additional testing is being planned. Local water companies have been asked to test wells near potential PFAS sources.

“We know landfills are absolutely a source of PFAS in the environment,” said Raymond Frigon, assistant director of the state’s environmental remediation division.
Officials said the task force will be under intense pressure to come up with recommendations for dealing with Connecticut’s PFAS problems by its Oct. 1 deadline. The state’s response followed extensive reporting in the Courant on the widespread use of the chemical and the dangers posed to the public.

Testing has already discovered wells in Greenwich and Willimantic that have been contaminated with unacceptable levels of PFAS. Bottled water containing PFAS from a Massachusetts source has recently been sold in Connecticut, and Massachusetts health officials urged pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants not to drink the water from Spring Hill Dairy Farm.
Connecticut officials are now planning to test wells in Windsor that may have been exposed to tens of thousands of gallons of firefighting foam spilled at a Bradley International Airport hangar last month.
Officials said Connecticut has no state laboratory facilities capable of testing for PFAS. Water and fish samples from the Bradley Airport spill that reached the Farmington River are being analyzed at a lab in British Columbia.
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.

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