Gov. Wolf Signs Executive Order Creating PFAS Action Team
Gov. Tom Wolf Friday announced he has signed Executive Order 2018-08 to establish a multi-agency PFAS Action Team and taking other executive actions to address growing national concerns surrounding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
These man-made chemicals are resistant to heat, water and oil, and persist in the environment and the human body, heightening concern among residents in areas of the state in which these chemicals have been identified in drinking water.
“This issue is by no means limited to Pennsylvania, but I am using all the authority I have to address this emerging environmental and public health issue because our residents deserve clean air, pure water, and to know that the environment they live in is safe,” Gov. Wolf said. “I have consistently called on the federal government to demonstrate leadership by establishing national safe drinking water standards for PFAS, but in the absence of federal action, Pennsylvania will move forward aggressively to ensure Pennsylvania residents are protected.”
PFAS substances were commonly used in applications including surface coating of paper and cardboard packaging products, carpets, non-stick pans, and textiles, as well as firefighting foams.
These substances have been detected in air, water, and soil in and around production manufacturing facilities as well as airports and military bases which utilized firefighting foams.
Companies began phasing out the production and use of several PFAS substances in the early 2000s, and two of the most well studied—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—are no longer manufactured or imported into the United States.
Despite the phase-out, contamination has been identified at 11 sites in Pennsylvania, each of which are being addressed by state and federal cleanup efforts.
The PFAS Action Team will be responsible for developing a comprehensive response to identify and eliminate the sources of contamination.
The Action Team will be led by the secretaries of Environmental Protection, Health, Military and Veteran Affairs, Community and Economic Development, Agriculture, and the State Fire Commissioner.
Their efforts will specifically address strategies to deliver safe drinking water and minimize risks from firefighting foam and other PFAS sources, manage environmental contamination, create specific site plans, explore funding for remediation efforts, and increase public education.
In addition to the creation of the Action Team, the governor also announced that the Commonwealth will prioritize the hiring of a state toxicologist, and two associate toxicologists in order to evaluate defensible PFAS drinking water limits and strategy.
The Department of Health is already in the process of hiring one toxicologist and will immediately begin the search for an additional two.
[Note: The Environmental Quality Board accepted a petition for from the Delaware RiverKeeper in August 2017 to study the issue of setting a state maximum contaminant level for PFOA in the Delaware River. Click Here for more.
[The departments of Environmental Protection and Health told members of the Environmental Quality Board August 27 of this year the lack of a state toxicologist has delayed the evaluation of a rulemaking petition asking the Board to set a maximum contaminant level for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in drinking water. Click Here for more.]
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency typically sets maximum contaminant levels, no timeline has been established for action at the federal level despite repeated calls from Gov. Wolf and officials nationwide.
Earlier this week, Gov. Wolf wrote to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to again urge that EPA move forward to establish a more-protective maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS.
[Note: EPA has a process underway to set a maximum contaminant level for PFOA and PFOS and held a public meeting in Horsham, Montgomery County on July 25 to hear public comments on a standard. Click Here for more.]
Click Here for the details on EPA MCL initiative.
Separately, the Governor reached out to members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to request their support for proposed legislation that provides funding to states to test, address, monitor and remediate contaminants and suspected contaminants of drinking water, groundwater, surface water, and lands.
“While my administration is taking action to address these and other emerging contaminants, I write to ask for your assistance in moving forward with the federal response,” wrote Gov. Wolf. “Failure to address PFAS nationally using a holistic approach will continue to put public health at risk and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent state laws and regulations.”
Testing Water Systems
And, in order to better understand the potential extent of this issue statewide, the governor has directed DEP to develop a PFAS sampling plan to test public water systems across the Commonwealth in order to identify any additional systems with elevated PFAS levels in drinking water.
Sampling will help locate other areas, beyond the known contamination sites, where steps to address contamination may be needed. Sampling is scheduled to begin in early 2019, and water systems will be selected based on risk characteristics developed by the department.
State Legislative Action
The governor also called for legislation that establishes an interim notification level similar to California’s which would require state notification if there is a detection of PFOS and PFOA above a protective level established as a percentage of EPA’s published Health Advisory Level.
Water sampling done in Warminster, Warrington and Horsham townships in Montgomery County reported that the groundwater that feeds public and private wells for at least 70,000 people was found to be among the worst in the nation, most all in the vicinity of the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base at Willow Grove, the current Horsham Air Guard Station in Horsham and the site of the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.
As a result of the use of firefighting foams at these military facilities in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, people have been exposed for many years to dangerous concentrations of PFOA in their drinking water.
The federal Department of Defense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have been involved in responding to these issues.
DEP is also responding directly to PFOA and related groundwater contamination at several locations, including recently in East and West Rockhill townships in Bucks County under the state Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act.
For more information on PFOA and PFOS contamination and other sites under investigation, visit DEP’s PFOA and PFOS: What Are They webpage.
New Jersey/Federal Action
Since the rulemaking petition was accepted by the EQB in August of 2017, actions have been taken on setting an MCL for PFOA and related contaminants by New Jersey.
In November of 2017, New Jersey became the first state to set a formal MCL for PFOA and the related perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) in drinking water.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection set a 14 parts for trillion MCL for PFOA and a 13 parts per trillion standard for PFNA.
[Posted: Sept. 21, 2018]
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