Top Stories of 2019: PFAS Pollution Puts Drinking Water for Tens of Millions at Risk

PFAS foam        Photo: Jake May, The Flint Journal, via Associated Press

The feature film “Dark Waters” exposed the scandal that Congress and the President are ignoring.  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), PFAS contamination is now found at 1,361 locations in 49 states — and in a variety of sources including community water systems, groundwater sources, military bases, airports, and industrial sites. According to EWG’s analysis of unreleased EPA data, “more than 100 million Americans may have PFAS in their drinking water.”  It’s also been found in rainwater, and even in compostable containers from fast-food restaurants.

Why This Matters:  Think twice before you drink water from a tap in much of the country.  Almost one-third of Americans may be drinking water with PFAS in it.  The EPA does not regulate this “forever” chemical that never breaks down once released into the environment, and that builds up in our blood and organs. And scientists have warned that even low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to many serious health problems such as an increased risk of cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, liver and thyroid disease.  Meanwhile, despite some minimal progress on phasing out the use of PFAS on military installations, Congress has thus far been unable to pass legislation to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit PFAS contamination or clean up the hundreds of toxic sites nationwide.  Companies could also do the right thing and filter out the PFAS but they won’t because they are not required to do so.  Shame on everyone involved in the poisoning of our drinking water or failing to do anything about it. But people like our Hero of the Week, Tracy Danzey, who lost a leg to cancer she believes was caused by PFAS exposure, are inspiring people to take action.  She walked across Denmark to try to fight a new wave of pollution in West Virginia.

Ruffalo Exposes Dupont’s PFAS Legacy

Actor Mark Ruffalo perfectly timed the release of his movie Dark Waters to put maximum pressure on Congress to take action, and even that did not prompt real action.  The movie tells the story of the real-life efforts of a lawyer seeking to hold Dupont accountable for pollution from its factory in West Virginia that caused severe health problems in nearby residents.  DuPont, which is the main manufacturer of PFAS chemicals, announced last week that it will purchase a company that specializes in reverse osmosis water filtration technology that removes toxic PFAS chemicals from water. “After making billions contaminating the nation’s drinking water with PFAS chemicals, now DuPont will profit off the backs of local governments and taxpayers trying to clean up the mess,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “This outrageously cynical move is right on brand for DuPont, which knew decades ago that PFAS chemicals were hazardous to human health but covered it up for the sake of profit.”

One Inspiring Hero: Tracy Danzey

Tracy was born and raised in Parkersburg, WV, (the setting for the film) where as a kid she was a competitive swimmer and regularly spent 5-8 hours a day unknowingly swimming in water tainted by DuPont with toxic PFAS (or C-8) chemicals. In 1998,  she moved to Shepherdstown, WV to attend school to become a nurse.  In 2000, she discovered that her thyroid had ceased functioning properly (an established side-effect of C8 exposure).  Her health took a turn for the worse again in 2005, when she learned she was suffering from a rare form of Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in her hip. Her childhood dog had died from same disease in its hip only 5 years earlier. To survive, she had to amputate her leg above the hip.

Tracy is now a mom and the President of a local environmental group in her town who is fighting the construction by a Danish insulation company, Rockwool, of a major manufacturing facility that will be permitted to burn 80 metric tons of coal and 45,000 cubic meters of fracked gas a day less than 400 meters from an elementary school and in the center of Jefferson County, WV’s poorest and most vulnerable community.  This month, she walked 100 km across Denmark to ask, in her words, “the most environmentally conscious people in the world” for help in her community’s fight to stop Rockwool from poisoning Jefferson County and it’s children, air, water, and land.  She refuses to let other children in her community suffer a future of illness and hardship due to preventable pollution.

Photo: Emily Vaughn, WVpublic.org

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