LETTER SENT TO CONGRESS SOUNDS ALARM ABOUT DANGEROUS “FOREVER” PFAS CHEMICALS CONTAMINATING DRINKING WATER AND ENVIRONMENT

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[Environmental News]
Attorney General James: “These toxic ‘forever' chemicals endanger the well-being of people across our state, and we need federal legislation to address the threat. We strongly urge Congress to take action and give our states the tools we urgently need to address the harms these dangerous chemicals cause to our communities.”
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Attorney General Letitia James today released a joint letter to Congress, signed by a coalition of 22 State Attorneys General, strongly urging the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to pass legislation to aid New York and other states to address the public health threat of toxic “forever” PFAS chemicals.

In the letter sent to Congressional leadership, the coalition calls for action to help states address and prevent the growing dangers of a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of super-resilient, man-made chemicals contaminating drinking water and other media throughout the nation. Additionally, the Attorneys General urged Congress to provide financial assistance to help state and local governments offset the high cost burden of cleaning up drinking water supplies.

“When it comes to the health and safety of New Yorkers, inaction isn’t an option,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “These toxic ‘forever’ chemicals endanger the wellbeing of people across our state, and we need federal legislation to address the threat. We strongly urge Congress to take action and give our states the tools we urgently need to address the harms these dangerous chemicals cause to our communities.”

The two most studied types of PFAS contaminants are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid/perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid/perflurooctanoate (PFOA). PFAS chemicals resist degradation in the environment and accumulate in the body. Those contaminants are also linked to serious adverse health effects in humans and animals. Human health effects associated with exposure to PFOA include kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, and preeclampsia; exposure to PFOS is associated with immune system effects, changes in liver enzymes and thyroid hormones, and other conditions.

Across the country, PFAS contamination is most often associated with military bases, firefighting training centers, civilian airports, and industrial facilities. PFAS chemicals tend to be persistent in the environment and have been used for decades as ingredients in firefighting foam. Some states with significant PFAS contamination are currently spending tens of millions of dollars to address the contamination in public drinking water systems, and to investigate numerous areas and sources of potential contamination. To date, New York has spent more than $51 million on PFAS cleanup-related costs and these costs will likely to continue to grow.

While both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have advanced legislation that addresses issues related to PFAS contamination, the Attorneys General urge Congress to deal with “the most urgent legislative needs” of states as they work on a final agreement on this legislation. These urgent needs, based on states’ firsthand experiences, include:

(1) Designating certain PFAS chemicals as “hazardous substances” under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), otherwise known as “Superfund.” Such designation is a key to cleaning up some of the most dangerous PFAS-contaminated sites in the country, including U.S. Department of Defense sites and so-called “orphan” sites, where the responsible parties have not been identified or located, or have simply failed to act.

(2) Adding the entire class of PFAS chemicals to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which requires certain industrial facilities to report annually the amount of specific toxic chemicals released into the environment. This would provide critical information about new potential sources of these chemicals, as well as the areas of potential contamination.

(3) Providing funding for remediation of PFAS-contaminated drinking water supplies – particularly those in disadvantaged communities, where many face severe water affordability issues. Municipalities struggling to afford the high costs associated with cleaning up PFAS contamination in turn may raise water rates on local residents.

(4) Prohibiting the use and storage of firefighting foam containing PFAS at military bases and other federal facilities as soon as possible and in the meantime, providing immediate protective measures, especially when firefighting foam is used.

(5) Providing medical screening of PFAS exposure for appropriate personnel and members of the public, including but not limited to firefighters.

The Office of the New York State Attorney General has been actively seeking to hold accountable those responsible for PFAS contamination in New York. In June 2018, the Office of the Attorney General and Governor Andrew Cuomo filed the first-ever lawsuit brought by a state against the makers of PFAS-containing firefighting foam products for the contamination caused by the use of their products and the creation of a public nuisance. This lawsuit seeks to recover at least $51 million in costs incurred by the state in the cleanup of the dangerous chemicals released into the environment at several military bases and civilian airports in New York.

This lawsuit was subsequently amended to seek the recovery of cleanup costs from the suppliers of chemicals that 3M and the other manufacturers incorporated into their foam products. The amended suit also asks for cleanup costs from the United States (on behalf of the Department of Defense) considering its responsibility in the discharging of the toxic firefighting foam into the environment in or around military bases. In February 2019 and July 2019, the State filed additional lawsuits against the foam manufacturers and the chemical suppliers regarding contamination at additional facilities in New York.

Joining Attorney General James in the letter are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawai’i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mathew J. Sinkman, Mihir Desai, Philip Bein and Norman Spiegel of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux.

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