When a toxic chemical used to make Teflon was discovered in the drinking water in parts of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, federal and state officials made changes to protect residents.
Officials in New York installed filters, and Vermont’s health department set a new standard for the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, in drinking water, establishing one of the lowest allowable levels in the nation.
And the governors of all three states sent a letter this month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking the agency to help with additional drinking water testing and analysis in communities exposed to to perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C8, which DuPont used to make Teflon at a number of facilities, including its Washington Works plant, located on the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia.
The chemical has been linked to serious health problems including cancer, pregnancy complications and thyroid disease.
Yet in southeastern Ohio and near Parkersburg — considered by many the center of C8 contamination in the country — governments have remained largely silent. Neither the federal nor state governments require public drinking water systems in Ohio or West Virginia to filter out the chemical.
In 2005, the Ohio EPA sent letters to customers of the Little Hocking Water Association, advising residents that elevated C8 levels had been found in their water and noting that the agency would “continue its involvement in this issue.”
But in the decade since, Ohio largely has deferred to the U.S. EPA rather than push for additional testing of water or residents.
“We need to get the West Virginia governor, the Kentucky governor, the Ohio governor to take action,” said A. Paul Brooks, a retired Parkersburg physician who worked on the C8 Science Project, which collected comprehensive health data from 70,000 people exposed to C8 near DuPont’s Washington Works plant.
Brooks also is an adviser for Keep Your Promises DuPont, a watchdog environmental organization.
“We can’t do anything about what’s happened, other than filter the water and monitor people, so from now on, what we need to do is to coalesce together — government, industry, politicians, everybody who has got a stake in this, and see that this never happens again,” Brooks said.
Last week, Keep Your Promises Dupont sent letters to the Ohio EPA and Gov. John Kasich, demanding that the state do more to protect residents and asking Kasich to sign on with governors in New York, New Hampshire and Vermont in asking the federal government to require additional testing.
For decades, DuPont deposited waste laced with C8 from its Washington Works plant into a landfill outside Parkersburg. Lawsuits eventually showed that DuPont had known for years that the chemical was toxic and could cause serious health problems. The chemical ended up in drinking water around Parkersburg, in the Ohio River and in ground water in southeastern Ohio.
In 2007, DuPont paid for filters in four communities in southeastern Ohio. A federal court jury in Columbus ordered DuPont in October to pay $1.6 million to an Athens County woman who sued after doctors diagnosed kidney cancer linked to C8. And in January, DuPont settled with a West Virginia man who said he had contracted ulcerative colitis from the C8 in his drinking water.
Last year, DuPont promised to phase out C8.
Robert Bilott, a Cincinnati lawyer involved in several cases, has written letters to the U.S. EPA and the state of West Virginia, saying action is long overdue. In them he has called for additional testing, medical monitoring and funding for drinking water system upgrades.
James Lee, a spokesman for the Ohio EPA, said Ohio follows federal guidelines for how much C8 is permitted in water. Those guidelines allow C8 at levels 95 percent higher than the levels Vermont recently set.
“We are aware that U.S. EPA is finalizing a lifetime health advisory level for (C8) that should be released in the near future,” Lee wrote in an email. “We will continue to work with U.S. EPA to evaluate how new health advisories levels should be incorporated into existing consent orders addressing (C8) contamination in Ohio and West Virginia with DuPont to ensure customers continue to have safe drinking water.
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