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Vt. reconsiders PFAS protocols following EPA announcement

Published: Jun. 20, 2022 at 5:48 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont environmental officials are reassessing their fight against PFAS following a report from the EPA last week showing smaller amounts of the so-called forever chemicals are more harmful than previously thought.

State leaders say the new EPA standard lowers the PFAS threshold from 70 parts per trillion to four parts per quadrillion -- a microscopic amount.

“The first six inches on a journey to the sun is one part per trillion. So, you can imagine if we’re talking parts per quadrillion -- which is 1,000 times smaller than that -- it is an incredibly small number,” said Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Julie More.

She says that amount is smaller than most labs even have the technology to identify. PFAS chemicals are in countless consumer products manufactured since the 1950′s, from firefighting foam and food packaging to Teflon and ski wax. They’ve been linked to cancer, low birth weights, and other medical problems.

The chemicals first came to the attention of state officials around 2016 after they were found in groundwater in Bennington that was traced to the former ChemFab plant.

“PFAS is the single biggest thing I lose sleep over in my role as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. It’s the looming crisis we’ve known about for decades,” said Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury.

Vermont already has some of the strictest regulations on PFAS and the state is gradually phasing out products. Sheldon says lawmakers next session want to continue the PFAS conversation and hold businesses accountable before more of the chemicals can make it into the environment. “Those companies now need to be held accountable in hindsight. But we also need to create an economy that prevents these things from happening,” she said.

In the meantime, the EPA is earmarking a billion dollars for water testing and treatment as well as creating new drinking water standards that are due out next year.

Dr. Matthew Vaughan, a scientist with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, says the state has not detected PFAS from major drinking water sources. “This is a concern we’re keeping an eye on. It’s not an alarm bell that all of our drinking water is contaminated. The vast majority of our drinking water is very high quality and has no detectable PFAS in it,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan says they’re working to ramp up testing in Lake Champlain so that they’re looking for PFAS as much as they are other chemicals that are the source of blue-green algae. State officials will also ramp up testing of watersheds to identify whether any are at risk for contamination.

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