Washington, DC — Relying on industry-funded science, North Carolina has proposed an exceedingly high groundwater limit for the controversial chemical used in nonstick cookware and stain resistant fabrics that does not ensure protection of public health, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The allowable levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) proposed for drinking water in the Tar Heel State are much higher than levels that have prompted other states to provide bottled water to affected populations until treatment systems are installed.
The North Carolina Dept of Environment and Natural Resources Science Advisory Board (SAB) has proposed a relatively high “Maximum Allowable Concentration” for PFOA in groundwater – lifetime exposure through drinking water from 0.9 to 1.6 ug/L (parts per billion). In addition to the public health consequences, the financial stakes for the affected corporations are enormous, as the clean-up bill for the chemical manufacturers will be in the billions of dollars if strict groundwater limits are set.
Extensive PFOA contamination plagues several states, most notably Minnesota, West Virginia and New Jersey. North Carolina joins that list, largely due to a PFOA plant owned by DuPont near Fayetteville that has polluted the Cape Fear River. The eventual North Carolina maximum limits will determine how much of the chemical its population will be allowed to ingest over their lifetimes.
Public comments on the PFOA plan are due today. In its comments PEER highlighted that the proposed levels are too high to protect public health, pointing out that the U.S. EPA Provisional Drinking Water Health Advisory for PFOA, which is intended for short term (not chronic or lifetime) exposure, of 0.4 ppb, is less than the North Carolina proposed MAC which is intended for lifetime exposure. In addition:
- The North Carolina proposed drinking water concentrations will cause PFOA in people’s blood to reach levels associated with developmental and other harmful health effects seen in both humans and laboratory animals. In other states, such as Ohio and West Virginia, exposed communities have been taken off the water contaminated at much lower levels;
- North Carolina’s PFOA assessment is based on research financed by DuPont and 3M. Independent scientists have criticized this industry-backed research as containing “numerous errors, omissions, misrepresentations, and deviations from established risk assessment approaches…”; and
- North Carolina eschewed consultation with other states, such as New Jersey and Minnesota, which have prepared similar risk assessments that are far more protective of public health.
“According to its Policy and Practices, this Science Advisory Board is supposed to err on the side of caution in the face of scientific doubt affecting public health,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, citing the serious demonstrated health concerns and noting the proven feasibility and effectiveness of activated carbon treatment of PFOA-tainted water. “North Carolina need not allow its citizens to be unknowing subjects in a corporate-sponsored chemical experiment.”