ALBANY, N.Y. – Prized for its ability to make things super-slick, it was used for decades in the manufacture of Teflon pans, Gore-Tex jackets, ski wax, carpets and the linings of pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.
Now, with the suspected cancer-causing chemical PFOA being phased out in the U.S., it is still very much around, turning up in the water in factory towns across the country – most recently in upstate New York and Vermont – where it is blamed by residents for cancers and other maladies.
The latest cases have brought renewed demands that the Environmental Protection Agency regulate PFOA the way it does arsenic, lead and dozens of other contaminants, and set stringent, enforceable limits on how much of the substance can be in drinking water.
“Where is the government that is supposed to protect people and the environment? It’s an outrage,” said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which uncovered PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, in tap water in New Jersey a decade ago.
As part of its review of such chemicals, the EPA ordered nationwide testing of water supplies in 2013.
Of 4,764 water supplies, 103 systems in 29 states had trace amounts of PFOA, but none exceeded 400 parts per trillion, EPA’s advisory level for short-term exposure – water you drink for only a few weeks.
But the EPA’s national survey didn’t tell the whole story.
Towns the size of Hoosick Falls, New York, whose water supply serves just 4,500 people, weren’t included in the testing. Its PFOA level of 600 ppt was discovered in village wells in 2014 only because residents, concerned about what they perceived as a high cancer rate in the plastics factory town, demanded testing.
In January, after the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, focused national attention on water contamination, EPA and New York officials warned people in Hoosick Falls not to drink the water. The state is promising a new water supply with a price tag of $10 million.
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