(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — Nothing sticks to Teflon, but it definitely sticks to you — your organs, blood, and tissues, and your body doesn’t eliminate it easily — if at all. Documentarians Morgan Spurlock, Stephanie Soechtig, and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich have teamed up to expose this prevalent and real danger affecting the health and water of millions of Americans. Their documentary, The Devil We Know, is airing on Netflix and examines the hazards of C8, a PFOA, that is “everywhere” and “never” breaks down in the environment.
What are PFAS and PFOA?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFAS is the umbrella category for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, including PFOA (perfluorooctanoate ammonium), PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), and GenX, a trade name used by DuPont, and its spinoff company Chemours. GenX refers to their processing aid technology, which includes hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) dimer acid and the ammonium salt HFPO dimer acid. Many of these chemicals, used in the manufacturing of non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, and stain-resistant or water-resistant fabrics, never break down in the environment, according to the CDC, and accumulate in the body over time. Substances in these groups are aptly nicknamed “forever chemicals.”
The bioaccumulation of PFAS doesn’t only affect people. PFAS can also be found in fish and animals, which adds to a person’s bio-load when these organisms are consumed as food. Fire fighter training facilities and airports are a major source of these pollutants, according to the EPA, due to the use of PFAS in foam-retardant used to fight oil-based fires.
The EPA also says the most consistent findings concerning PFOA and PFOS include higher cholesterol levels in exposed populations, and “reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in animals.” PFAS are also indicated in lower birth weights and immune system dysfunctions, though that data is limited. Specifically, the substances have been linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and pre-eclampsia.
The discovery of this widespread problem isn’t new either, leaving many to wonder why the U.S. Government hasn’t acted more expediently to stop the flow of these “forever chemicals” into the environment, and hence, into all of our bodies. Back in 2007, journalist Leslie Savan wrote in Mother Jones:
It shows up in dolphins off the Florida coast and polar bears in the Arctic; it is present, according to a range of studies, in the bloodstream of almost every American — and even in newborns (where it may be associated with decreased birth weight and head circumference). The nonprofit watchdog organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls PFOA and its close chemical relatives “the most persistent synthetic chemicals known to man.” And although DuPont, the nation’s sole Teflon manufacturer, likes to chirp that its product makes “cleanup a breeze,” it is now becoming apparent that cleansing ourselves of PFOA is nearly impossible.
Water Problems in Madison, Wisconsin
On Aug. 2, 2019, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) issued a statement regarding the contamination of wells in Madison. Wells 15 and 16 supply water to the city’s northeast side and part of the westside, respectively. PFAS contamination was found in both wells during “voluntary sample events.”
“Clean drinking water is a public health priority. This pilot project serves as an example of the Department’s efforts to raise water quality issues to the forefront and assist Madison in its mission to provide safe, reliable water to the community,” said WDNR Secretary Designee Preston Cole, in a press release. “The Department remains committed to working collaboratively with the city, county, water utility and sewage district.”
Brockovich weighed in on the finding in a Facebook post, stating Wisconsin has two options: “Abandon the contaminated sources and hide from the problem, only to allow it to migrate to other wells,” Brockovich wrote. “Or, Madison can treat the water, removing the toxic contaminants from our environment forever. Madison should then send the bill for the cost of cleanup to 3M Corporation and DuPont.” 3M Corporation is the multinational entity behind Scotchgard — another product that uses the chemicals.
Problems Throughout the Country — Why Should You Care?
Wisconsin isn’t the only state affected. In July, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported 712 sites in 49 states are contaminated with PFAS — and those are only the ones the NGO knows about.
The Devil We Know focuses on the contamination in Spurlock’s hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where DuPont exposed residents and workers to C8. According to Deadline, C8 is found in the drinking water of 6.5 million Americans.
The PFAS contamination of California’s water affects over 7.5 million people. California doesn’t have laws setting a maximum level of PFAS allowed in the water, according to CBS Sacramento.
On Sept. 25, 2019, the U.S. Air Force agreed to pay $1.3 million to the City of Westfield, MA for the cleanup of PFAS-contaminated water. The decontamination effort cost the city $13 million or more according to MassLive. Rep. John C. Velis, (D-Westfield), is seeking to get more money from the state for Westfield’s proactive actions for C8. The city had already started its remediation process before the state passed the current budget proposals, which appropriated money to help other cities with their cleanup efforts, but left Westfield behind. According to a separate article in MassLive, “Massachusetts officials are dealing with PFAS contamination in three main clusters: near Barnes, in the MetroWest region near Boston and near Joint Base Cape Cod.”
Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) “is preparing a legislative proposal that would give that agency authority to order companies to clean up contamination from PFAS chemicals,” according to NBC Newscenter Maine. The legislation is required because PFAS aren’t classified as potentially dangerous at the federal level.
“If we wait for the feds to come in, they’ll have a large number of sites to deal with nationally [and] they won’t be able to work with everyone who needs help,” says Patrick MacRoy, Deputy Director at the Environmental Health Strategy Center.
In a letter addressed to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) urged the Department of Defense (DOD) to take responsibility for PFAS contamination in Michigan communities. Michigan has already seen drinking water issues in Flint due to lead contamination, and people’s emotions are still running high around the water quality issue there.
The PFAS issue is widespread leaving many to wonder where they can find clean drinking water. While The Devil We Know exposes the problem with PFAS, the action needed to deal with them must come from U.S. Government and the culprits and profiters who release them into the environment.
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FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Shad Engkilterra - Journalist, Author