From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):
Colorado may have more locations where dangerous PFAS “forever chemicals” are stored and used than any other state in the U.S., according to a database released by the EPA after challenges from a watchdog group.
About 21,000 industrial sites in Colorado appear on the previously undisclosed EPA database of locations that “may be handling” PFAS, with more than 85% of those places related to oil and gas, and heavy concentrations of possible locations at the industry’s core in Weld County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which forced EPA to release the data.
PFAS chemicals repel water, lubricate, and prevent stains better than many other substances, and have been used in firefighting foam and thousands of common household and industrial products worldwide.
The national database includes more than 100,000 possible PFAS locations, according to the watchdog group that forced EPA to release it, far more in the most recent analyses of PFAS ubiquity throughout the country. A map released in July by the Environmental Working Group put the number of Colorado locations possibly handling and discharging PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) into the environment at 501.
State officials investigating PFAS contamination and solutions in Colorado said they are not surprised by the extent of the EPA PFAS listings…
Colorado starts foam buyback
Colorado in September launched a new program to help local fire departments replace stores of firefighting foam containing PFAS with a safer alternative, and store the chemicals until the state figures out a disposal method, Dani said. Municipal water supplies covering 90% of state residents have been tested for the chemicals, and the state now encourages anyone using private well water to sign up for testing.
PFAS, which encompasses thousands of chemicals with slight variations, can run off into groundwater and accumulate in fish, animals and humans. While federal and state officials are still establishing safe human consumption limits for PFAS, the EPA says studies show the chemicals cause “reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals,” as well as tumors. High cholesterol levels in those exposed are also common impacts.
The chemicals, also used as repellents or lubricants, and previously in nonstick pans, as well as thousands of other products including fast-food wrappers, do not appear to break down or lose their potency, thus earning their “forever” label.
Physicians for Social Responsibility claimed in a July report that oil and gas companies in some states used PFAS or chemicals that break down into PFAS in fracking wells between 2012 and 2020. Colorado was not among the six states listed in that report.
California, a much larger state by population, is second in in the database’s total of “may be handling” sites, at about 13,000, with Oklahoma third, according to PEER, a nonprofit that provides legal and technical support to whistleblowers. PEER won release of the EPA’s PFAS registry and database through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The vast reach of PFAS chemicals and potential water contamination should put pressure on federal and state regulators to finally complete long-running studies on how to set a strict national drinking water standard, demand safer substitutes and force cleanups of spills, PEER advocates said.
“Colorado has become the PFAS capital of the United States,” said PEER’s Rocky Mountain director, Chandra Rosenthal. As EPA consistently delays moving its PFAS “guideline” to a specific cap in drinking water, Rosenthal said, “it is imperative that the state set a drinking water standard ASAP. Offering filters and bottled water to impacted communities isn’t sufficient.”
From Public Employees for Envinronmental Responsibility:
To address the threat posed by toxic PFAS chemicals, EPA announced a PFAS action plan almost three years ago. One of the steps in that plan was the development of an interactive map that would show sources and concentrations of PFAS in the environment.
When that map was never produced as promised, PEER sent a records request to EPA for data and information about the map. After months of delay and stonewalling by the Trump administration, PEER sued and finally began receiving documents. We felt EPA was hiding something, and we were determined to find it.
Under the Biden administration, we continued our records request. Finally, we received an EPA data set with information on some 120,000 industrial facilities “may be handling” PFAS, a figure that is over three times higher than outside experts had estimated. These figures show a scale of potential PFAS contamination in this country that is gargantuan.
The EPA figures indicate that the listed sites involving PFAS manufacture, import, handling, or storage –
Are in areas with more than 25% minority residents, with nearly 40% located within a three-mile radius of those communities; Are found in all states and territories, but that three states, Colorado, California, and Oklahoma (in that order), house more than one-third of all the facilities listed; and Include more than 6,000 facilities with a history of environmental violations.
The agency categorizes more than half of these facilities (around 57%) as active, with one-quarter (around 27%) categorized inactive, while the status of the balance (around 16% or more than 20,000 sites) is listed as “unknown.”
“PFAS” refers to a family of human-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFAS are used as non-stick coatings, firefighting foams, stain and water protection for fabrics, and protective coatings; more recently, they have been used in food packaging, cosmetics, medical devices, and other commercial products, like artificial turf.
Why was EPA sitting on this data?
Probably because these revelations have huge implications for our nation’s battle to contain PFAS pollution. PFAS are associated with a variety of ailments, including suppressed immune function, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney disease, cancers, and liver damage. Because PFAS have a strong carbon-fluorine bond, they do not easily break down in the environment and are called “forever chemicals.” As a result, they are virtually impossible to destroy and there is no know safe way to dispose of PFAS.
Despite the serious nature of this problem, EPA is taking a lax approach to regulating these chemicals, even as communities around the country are spending millions of dollars to clean up contaminated water supplies. This data is another indication that EPA is not doing its job and seems more worried about appeasing the chemical companies than protecting public health and the environment.
PEER is advocating regulation of PFAS as a class of chemicals, removing them from our drinking water and food supply, and removing them from consumer products. In addition, PEER has been asking EPA to treat PFAS as a hazardous waste from manufacture to disposal, employing a so-called cradle to grave approach.
From The Guardian (Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang):
List of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of the US appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.
The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.
The tally far exceeds a previous analysis that showed 29,900 industrial sites known or suspected of making or using the toxic chemicals.
People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health…
A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.
In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil…
The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly…
The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)