September 30, 2022
“2007: Study estimates PFOA and PFOS are in the blood of more than 98% of Americans.” is found in the timeline of the article located near the bottom of this blog page titled, The origin of these highly toxic man-made chemicals
I opened Facebook today and found the following posts.
The EPA has identified two metal plating companies in Chicago that are the sources of PFAS contamination. The good news is that the Chicago River does NOT flow into Lake Michigan. Now scroll down this page to, ‘The ones we are measuring look really bad’. Ryan Bennett, an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency geologist, collects samples of treated Lake Michigan water in a laboratory at the Wilmette water treatment plant on July 3, 2021. An analysis of the samples detected a pair of toxic PFAS chemicals at levels up to 600 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest health advisory. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)
WILMETTE IS 14 MILES NORTH OF DOWNTOWN CHICAGO, YET THE CITY OF CHICAGO’S OFFICIAL WEB SITE DOES NOT MENTION THAT LAKE MICHIGAN WATER TESTED IN WILMETTE CONTAINS TOXIC PFAS CHEMICAL AT LEVELS UP TO 600 TIMES HIGHER THAN THE LATEST EPA HEALTH ADVISORY.
Median household income in Wilmette, IL is $161,765. In 2020, the place with the highest median household income in Wilmette, IL was Census Tract 8012 with a value of $246,806, followed by Census Tract 8007 and Census Tract 8011, with respective values of $219,792 and $194,766.
Also, Chicago’s drinking water was sampled for chemicals within the PFAS group in 2014 during the U.S. EPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 and in 2020 as part of the Illinois EPA PFAS Study. Both studies yielded non-detect results, which means if any PFAS were present, it was at such a low level that the laboratory instruments couldn’t detect it. Don’t be misled by the preceding underlined statement.
GREETINGS TO YOU, THE READER. THERE IS A LISTING OF SIGNIFICANT DATES PERTAINING TO THE GRADUAL CONTAMINATION OF EARTH BY PFAC’S MANUFACTURED BY DUPONT AND THE 3-M CORPORATION. LOOK AT THE DATES OF 1950 AND 1961. THE CORPORATIONS KNEW THIS GROUP, of chemicals, WAS TOXIC AND DANGEROUS TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND PEOPLE IN PARTICULAR.
THE RATIONAL: So what. The toxic contamination is good for BUSINESS, the health care industry (doctors, hospitals, the pharmaceutical companies etc.), and all other auxiliary businesses and agencies involved in addressing the problems created by PFAS contamination. Survival of the fittest.
I read an article some years ago, stating that the Mississippi River water sampled in New Orleans was polluted with thousands of chemical compounds that had never been tested and cataloged. Think about all of the toxic chemicals dumped into the Mississippi River in addition to the combining of polluted waters from the Ohio River and Missouri River.
. I recall a jovial scene in a nightclub located in New Orleans, in the HBO series, Treme. It is a time soon after the hurricane Katrina disaster and the crowd is singing, “Lets drink a little poison before we die.” At least they were drinking alcohol. . .they were referring to the alcoholic liquor they were drinking, not the water.
Recent photos I took one afternoon and evening, in a time span of about 4 hours on a road trip.
MOST OF WHAT YOU AND I ARE, IS WATER. PHYSICALLY, YOUR BODY IS, AND MY BODY IS MOSTLY WATER. ALL LIVING THINGS ON EARTH DEPENDS ON WATER FOR LIFE
WE ARE LIVING IN A WORLD OF, “SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST” AND “THOSE EQUIPPED WITH AND HAVE ACCESS TO THE BEST RESOURCES TO SURVIVE.”
Anyone with basic knowledge of the human body, knows that our bodies are made up of mostly water. When we ingest water contaminated with PFAC’s, the concentration of the toxic chemicals in the body increases because the toxins remain in the body for a substantial period of time. Think about it. The PFAC molecule is chemically bonded to a water molecule. The human body is approximately 60% water. Therefore, PFAC’s are forever in the body of anyone who ingest and continue to ingest food or water contaminated with PFAC’s.
As always, people who can afford to buy equipment that reduce or remove PFAC’s from their water, are able to get protection from the toxins. Those who have the money can also buy food from sources that have low level contamination. Example; beef that come from cows that are grass feed on the open range where the ground has minimal contamination of PFAS’s. Based on present knowledge of the extent of PFAS contamination worldwide, organisms (living things, both plant and animal) of Earth must adapt to this man-made contamination until it is reduced or eliminated.
Populations, more specifically, human populations will continue to be afflicted and affected by diseases and health problems caused by PFAS contamination.
The reality is that many, many people don’t even know about the presence and dangers of PFAC contamination.
If Wilbur Earl Tennant’s cows hadn’t died from a mysterious wasting disease during the 1990s, the world might have never learned about the secret history of toxic forever chemicals.
Tennant was a West Virginia farmer whose family owned land near a DuPont factory on the Ohio River where the chemical giant made one of its signature inventions: Teflon nonstick and anti-stain coatings used in carpets, clothing, cookware and hundreds of other products.
The Tennants had sold some of their property to DuPont years earlier. Company officials told one of Tennant’s brothers in person and in writing they planned to turn it into a landfill for office garbage — nothing hazardous.
A few years after the sale, Tennant suspected DuPont had filled the landfill with more than just garbage.
Foam began appearing in a creek that meandered past the landfill before spilling into the Tennants’ pasture, he later testified in a court filing. Cows that drank from the creek had been healthy. Dozens began dramatically losing weight, dying even after Tennant doubled their feed on the advice of veterinarians who couldn’t determine what was killing the animals.
A videotape Tennant shot with a VHS camcorder shows emaciated cows with tumors on their hides. He focuses on the froth-covered creek before the tape cuts to a dissected calf with blackened teeth and oddly colored organs.
“There is something wrong with this water,” Tennant says on the videotape.
Lawyers in Parkersburg, West Virginia, turned him down when he urged them to sue DuPont, then one of the area’s biggest employers. But friends knew the grandson of one of their neighbors had become an environmental lawyer in Cincinnati. Call him, they suggested.
On paper, Rob Bilott didn’t appear to be one of those crusading lawyers in legal thrillers. (He later would be played by actor Mark Ruffalo in the 2019 film “Dark Waters.”)
Bilott’s law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, typically represents corporate clients like DuPont in environmental cases, not people like Tennant. “In short, I was playing for the opposite team,” Bilott recalled in his memoir about the lawsuit he ended up filing against DuPont — and the explosive aftermath.
During the years before DuPont settled the lawsuit — paying the Tennants an undisclosed amount without assigning blame for the dead cows — the company sent Bilott boxes of documents he requested through the normal court process.
Nothing jumped out in page after page he reviewed, Bilott recalled. But a single letter, sent by a DuPont scientist to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, began unraveling a more alarming story.
The June 23, 2000, letter listed something in the landfill that didn’t appear in the other documents or in Taft’s chemical dictionaries. Nor was it on the list of substances regulated by the EPA. Bilott later determined it was one of the forever chemicals — perfluorooctanoic acid, commonly referred to today as PFOA.
DuPont appeared to be concerned enough about PFOA that the company tested employees at the Teflon plant and found the chemical in their blood, the letter to the EPA revealed.
Revelations by another chemical company gave Bilott leverage to go back into court and request more records from DuPont.
A month before DuPont’s letter about PFOA, the Minnesota-based conglomerate 3M announced it would stop making a chemical with a similar sounding name: perfluorooctane sulfonic acid or PFOS. For decades it had been the backbone of 3M’s Scotchgard brand of stain-resistant products.
It turned out 3M also made PFOA and sold it to DuPont, which used the chemical cousin of Scotchgard to keep Teflon from clumping during production.
3M and DuPont have argued in court and in public statements that neither chemical is harmful to people at typical levels of exposure. But two years before 3M announced its phaseout in 2000, the company informed EPA officials for the first time that PFOA and PFOS accumulate in human blood, take years to leave the body and don’t break down in the environment.
Records obtained by Bilott showed DuPont had determined in 1961 that PFOA is toxic in animals. In 1970, a company that purchased 3M’s PFOS-based firefighting foam abruptly halted a demonstration after it killed fish in a nearby stream. Eight years later 3M paused one of its animal studies after every monkey fed PFOS died.
DuPont determined that PFOA passed from pregnant employees to their fetuses. Two of seven babies born to Teflon plant employees in 1981 had facial deformities similar to what 3M had found in newborn rats.
Other testing by 3M found the compounds in apples, bread, green beans and ground beef. DuPont detected PFOA in the drinking water of communities near the Teflon plant.
None of this information was shared with the public. DuPont and 3M kept the U.S. EPA in the dark for years, company and government records show.
Bilott also discovered that years before he sued DuPont on behalf of the Tennants, company scientists had tested the creek running through the family’s pasture. It was contaminated with high levels of PFOA.
DuPont and the family settled the lawsuit soon after Bilott shared that information with one of the company’s lawyers, who had referred to PFOA in an email as “the material 3M sells us that we poop into the river and into drinking water.”
After the Tennants had been paid and Bilott’s law firm collected its fees for representing them, he found himself coming back again and again to the piles of industry documents he had collected, urged on by the persistent Tennant.
Bilott created a timeline that showed what DuPont and 3M knew about the chemicals. Then he wrote a 19-page letter, attached some of the industry documents and mailed the package to officials at the EPA and the Department of Justice.
“During the course of the litigation, we have confirmed that the chemicals and pollutants released into the environment by DuPont … may pose an imminent and substantial threat to health and the environment,” Bilott wrote at the beginning of his March 6, 2001, letter.
He sued DuPont again on behalf of thousands of people who lived near the Teflon plant and for decades had been exposed to PFOA through drinking water and air pollution.
When DuPont settled that lawsuit in 2004, the company agreed to finance a study of PFOA’s health effects. Nearly 70,000 people participated.
The C8 Science Study (named for DuPont’s internal code for PFOA) found a “probable link” between the chemical and certain diseases in humans, some of which 3M and DuPont had found in animals years, if not decades, earlier.
DuPont later paid more than $750 million to settle lawsuits filed by Teflon plant neighbors with PFOA-linked diseases, including testicular and kidney cancer, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
In Minnesota, 3M paid an $850 million settlement after the state’s attorney general used the industry documents in a lawsuit demanding clean drinking water for communities near one of its manufacturing plants outside Minneapolis.
“Yet to this day the companies deny responsibility,” Bilott said in an interview. “In the meantime, people are drinking these chemicals every day. Babies are born every day with these chemicals. Seventy years later these chemicals are in our soil, our air, in wildlife. They are still in all of us.”
PFOA and PFOS are among more than 9,000 versions of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. About 600 are in use today, according to the EPA.
Alternatives for PFOA and PFOS — promoted as safe by industry — are just as dangerous, if not more so, scientists are finding. There also are related substances called precursors that transform into PFOA and PFOS in the body or the environment.
“They are everywhere. That’s what’s so scary about these chemicals,” said Jamie DeWitt, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University who studies PFAS. “It begs the question: How many cancers and other health effects are we willing to accept?”
Bilott is back in court again. This time he is seeking to force 3M and DuPont to pay for medical monitoring of every American exposed to PFAS.
In March, a federal judge limited the case to Ohio residents with a specific amount of the chemicals in their blood, which alone could include up to 11 million people.
The chemical companies are appealing the decision.
Tennant didn’t live to witness the scope of what unfolded after he persuaded Bilott to file the lawsuit about his dead cows. He died of a heart attack in 2009 at age 67.
Story by Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune.
Nano is a unit of one billionth. I added the tables of measurement units below, just to give you, the reader, some idea as to the minute quantities of PFAC’s that have negative effects on the human body.
A picometer (pm) is a derived metric measurement unit of length. The metric unit prefix pico means one trillionth, or one (1) with eleven (11) nulls in front of it, i.e., 0.000,000,000,001 or 1×10 -12. That makes one picometer equal to one trillionth of a meter.
Below are statistics from Premium Waters, Inc., the company that supplies Walmart’s “Great Value” brand of distilled water.
Forever chemicals end up in lakes, rivers and wells after flushing through sewage treatment plants and spreading from factory smokestacks. The chemicals also leach out of products such as carpets, clothing, cookware, cosmetics, dental floss, fast-food wrappers, firefighting foam, food packaging, microwave popcorn bags, paper plates, pizza boxes, rain jackets and ski wax.
Yet PFAS remain largely unregulated. The U.S. EPA, whose mission is to safeguard America’s health and environment, has repeatedly cleared new versions of the chemistry without thoroughly assessing health risks or limiting their use. Chemical companies have declared that many PFAS formulas are trade secrets, making it difficult for scientists to identify the compounds and determine if they are harmful.
Two of the most studied PFAS are so toxic there is effectively no safe level of exposure, the U.S. EPA declared last month after reviewing the latest research.
Scientists are finding that tiny concentrations can trigger testicular and kidney cancer, birth defects, liver damage, impaired fertility, immune system disorders, high cholesterol and obesity. Links to other diseases are suspected, in part because the chemicals disrupt albumin, a protein that carries hormones and vitamins through the bloodstream.
“They affect every organ system in the body, at different times of your life, which makes them different than most other toxic substances,” said Linda Birnbaum, who retired as director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences in 2019 after a 40-year career as a government scientist.
Pioneered after World War II by the global conglomerates 3M and DuPont, the synthetic chemicals have been added for decades to products featuring brand names such as Scotchgard, Stainmaster and Teflon. Industry promotes PFAS as miracles of science, but since the late 1990s lawsuits have revealed that 3M and DuPont hid from regulators and the public what the companies knew decades ago about the harmful consequences.
Nearly every American has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babies are born with the chemicals in their blood.
The chief manufacturers, 3M and DuPont, have paid nearly $2 billion combined to settle PFAS-related lawsuits without accepting responsibility for contaminated drinking water or diseases suffered by people exposed to the chemicals.
In a statement, 3M said there is no proof its versions of the chemistry “cause adverse health effects in humans.” DuPont, which in 2015 spun off its chemicals division into a separate company called Chemours, stressed it no longer makes PFAS. Chemours said a PFAS that contaminates water supplies downstream from a former DuPont plant it owns in North Carolina “is safe for its intended use in our manufacturing processes” and does not cause “cancer or liver disease.”
‘The ones we are measuring look really bad’
The PFAS found most frequently during water testing in Illinois are former Teflon and Scotchgard compounds: perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
Career scientists at the U.S. EPA and state health officials in California concluded last year that the chemicals are far more dangerous than previously thought. The federal agency announced June 15 that PFOA and PFOS are unsafe at concentrations so small they can’t be measured using conventional laboratory techniques.
Like other members of the chemical family, PFOA and PFOS are fused with virtually indestructible bonds of carbon and fluorine atoms, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.” Industry records show 3M and DuPont knew decades ago that hundreds of other PFAS break down to either PFOA or PFOS in people and the environment.
“The ones we are measuring look really bad,” said Elsie Sunderland, an environmental chemist at Harvard University. “We’re seeing more and more (health) impacts at lower and lower levels, and we don’t have any substantial evidence that any of these compounds are safe in the way industry says they are.”
As Sunderland and other scientists realized the same qualities that make the chemicals desirable to industry makes them hazardous to people, multiple presidential administrations — Democratic and Republican alike — have vowed to adopt national standards.
But two decades after the U.S. EPA under President George W. Bush launched what the agency called a “priority review” of PFOA and PFOS, water utilities in Illinois and most other states still aren’t legally required to protect their customers from the chemicals.
Without enforceable regulations, utilities generally have done nothing to limit potential health risks from drinking contaminated water.
The Chicago Department of Water Management did not adjust its treatment methods after detecting PFOS, 3M’s original Scotchgard chemical, in treated Lake Michigan water during 2009 and 2011. Department officials noted the Illinois EPA’s 2020-21 investigation did not find PFAS at the city’s two treatment plants, but scientists caution the chemicals are widespread in the Great Lakes.
Federal authorities knew by the early 2000s that 3M had found PFAS at blood banks throughout the nation, and that 3M and DuPont had detected the chemicals in drinking water. Yet the U.S. EPA didn’t begin testing nationally for the chemicals until 2013.
One of the communities chosen for the agency’s study was Freeport, a small industrial city in northwest Illinois.
Jim Gitz, who was Freeport’s mayor at the time, said there was no sense of urgency when federal officials found high levels of PFOA and PFOS in the city’s drinking water.
“This was treated by the city as an experiment,” Gitz recalled in an interview. “We decided we shouldn’t get worked up unless the EPA told us we needed to do something.”
Additional testing in Freeport — from 2016 to as recently as February — continued to find PFAS at the city’s treatment plant and in half of its wells, according to state records. Potential sources of the contamination remain unknown, though Gitz speculated the chemicals could have oozed out an abandoned dump upstream from the treatment plant.
Freeport’s eventual response shows how the costs of PFAS contamination often are borne by taxpayers rather than polluters.
The city borrowed more than $17 million in federal-state loans to build a new treatment plant and drill new wells that tap into an uncontaminated aquifer. Freeport hopes to end its era of PFAS-contaminated drinking water by next year, said Rob Boyer, the city’s public works director.
By then it will have been nearly a decade since the U.S. EPA first tested Freeport’s water for the chemicals.
Absent federal regulation, a handful of states have imposed their own limits on PFAS in drinking water, the most stringent of which are in California, Michigan, New York and Washington.
So far the closest thing to standards in Illinois are nonenforceable state health advisories adopted last year for PFOA, PFOS and four related compounds.
A quarter of the Illinoisans exposed to the chemicals in drinking water — 2 million people — are customers of utilities that exceeded the state’s guidelines for at least one PFAS, the Tribune found.
‘What can we do about it’
Amid growing concerns about the chemicals, some Illinois utilities have voluntarily taken action.
Officials in Rockford hooked up a cluster of mobile homes to the municipal water system last year and abandoned the development’s highly contaminated wells. In McHenry County, the villages of Cary and Lake in the Hills stopped using wells with PFAS concentrations exceeding state guidelines.
Five Will County communities — Channahon, Crest Hill, Joliet, Romeoville and Shorewood — are forming a new water authority organized by Joliet. Instead of relying on wells that can’t keep up with demand, the authority is building a 31-mile pipeline that will convey treated Lake Michigan water sold by Chicago.
The ambitious project, expected to be completed in 2030 at a cost to ratepayers of least $1.4 billion, is intended to ensure the communities have enough water for residents and the region’s major employers: distribution centers built by Amazon and other retailers.
Several municipal wells in Will County also are contaminated with PFAS.
“That was another consideration for us when we debated whether or not to sign up with Joliet,” said Mark Siefert, the Crest Hill public works director. “I trust Chicago is going to provide us with safe, reliable drinking water.”
Ed Dolezal, public works director in Channahon, said he expects utilities eventually will be required to limit PFAS in drinking water. It would be less burdensome to spread the costs among multiple communities tapped into Chicago’s system, he said.
“Especially when you consider this stuff is found pretty much anywhere you look around the world these days,” Dolezal said. “I’m sure the lake isn’t immune to PFAS. If it becomes a problem, our agreements require it to be handled by the city.”
Dozens of other Illinois communities are stuck with contaminated water for now, including the Criswell Court trailer park.
The future of the development is tied up in court proceedings after the longtime owner died six years ago, said manager Wendy Miller, who brushed aside questions about the safety of the well water.
“From what I’m told these chemicals are everywhere,” Miller said. “What can we do about it?”
For communities that rely on lakes or rivers, the only proven methods to remove PFAS can cost billions to build and maintain.
The Chicago Department of Water Management said it doesn’t plan to upgrade its treatment plants to address PFAS unless the city is required to do so by the federal government.
Brian Keys, director of the Water and Electric Department in Winnetka, said the village is testing quarterly for PFAS and is researching methods to remove the chemicals from drinking water. Other lakefront communities are following the same script.
Bottled water isn’t necessarily safer, studies have found. Certain types of household filters can screen out the chemicals, though.
‘These threats to our drinking water are too big to ignore’
Rendulich, the Will County activist, worries most Illinoisans don’t know about PFAS in their water unless they attend city council meetings or carefully read their mail.
Exhausted from years of battles with local polluters and municipal officials, Rendulich had all but retired from Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, or CARE, a nonprofit group she and two neighbors formed during the mid-1990s to fight a proposed garbage incinerator. PFAS pulled her back into the fray. Now she is organizing Zoom sessions to educate people about the chemicals and calling elected representatives to urge more aggressive action.
“You work on the politicians a bit, you get the public aware so they start working on the politicians,” Rendulich said.
Initially she found the only other Illinoisans concerned about PFAS belonged to a church group in the Metro East region outside St. Louis. The group fears the only hazardous waste incinerator licensed in Illinois could accept PFAS waste and release the chemicals into surrounding communities.
“When you learn about what these companies are doing to our environment, you just can’t close your eyes,” Rendulich said. “I’m getting old, I felt I needed to get away from this. But these threats to our drinking water are too big to ignore.”
Based on notices posted by water utilities with PFAS contamination, it could be easy to dismiss the hazards. Dry, bureaucratic language suggested by the Illinois EPA doesn’t mention health risks until the second page, for instance.
When researchers analyzed PFAS webpages in other states during 2020, they found a lack of transparency and context.
“Even if information was made available, it was difficult to navigate,” said Alissa Cordner, a Whitman College sociologist and one of the study’s authors.
Several community notices reviewed by the Tribune downplay the danger by highlighting a unit of measurement for PFAS: “1 part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”
But PFOA is so toxic the Illinois EPA’s health advisory is 2 parts per trillion. The state advisory for PFOS is 14 ppt.
Newly announced federal health advisories are exponentially more stringent. Both chemicals are unsafe at concentrations measured in parts per quadrillion, according to the U.S. EPA.
Put another way, a single Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with PFOS would contain enough of the chemical to contaminate the drinking water of every American, said Chris Higgins, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.
“A little bit goes a long way,” Higgins said.
‘A critical first step’
There are just three documented sources of PFAS pollution in Illinois. Two are unnamed Chicago metal plating shops studied by the U.S. EPA during the late 2000s; the other is a 3M chemical plant in Rock Island County that pumps PFAS waste into the Mississippi River upstream from the Quad Cities.
In 2019, Congress required industry to begin reporting PFAS releases through the federal Toxics Release Inventory, an online database that enables Americans to determine what types of chemicals are polluting their communities. The Trump administration created so many loopholes that only 36 facilities nationwide acknowledged PFAS discharges during 2020; none were in Illinois.
Voluntary surveys aren’t helpful either. When the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago asked Cook County companies last year if they dumped PFAS-laden waste into sewers, less than a third replied.
Clues about other culprits are buried in court records, regulatory documents and government emails reviewed by the Tribune.
For instance, the U.S. EPA is considering the first-ever federal regulation of PFAS pollution from a handful of industries, including chemical manufacturers, metal platers, paper mills, food packaging plants, textile and carpet manufacturers. Airports also are on the list.
Officials at the water reclamation district compiled their own list and have begun collecting samples of sewage near metal platers and other companies suspected of using PFAS.
Because there are no federal or state limits on the pollution, companies can legally flush PFAS into sewers. When the waste reaches treatment plants, the chemicals concentrate in effluent released into lakes and rivers and sludge marketed to farmers and gardeners as fertilizer, studies have found.
The need for a national investigation has been apparent for years. Minnesota officials found high levels of PFOS in waste from a chrome-plating factory during the late 2000s, prompting U.S. EPA scientists to collect samples from chrome platers in Chicago and Cleveland.
“Yet here we are, 20-plus years later and we still don’t know for sure where these chemicals are being used and where they are being released,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization that has studied PFAS and advocated for federal regulations since the early 2000s. “Answering those questions should have been a critical first step.”
‘Finding safe alternatives’
John Kim, director of the Illinois EPA, acknowledged the state is behind in addressing PFAS contamination. Testing for the chemicals at Illinois water utilities provided a rationale for the state to take action, Kim said.
The first regulations proposed by the Illinois EPA would limit PFAS in underground sources of water connected to public and private wells. Drinking water regulations are more complicated, Kim said, because state law requires the agency to prove cost-effective, technically feasible treatment methods are available.
“We are required to follow a process and defend what we come up with in public meetings and in response to comments,” Kim said. “That takes time. But if we do this on our terms … I believe we will have (standards) much quicker than if we wait for U.S. EPA.”
Echoing their counterparts at the federal level, industry lobbyists in Illinois are questioning academic and government studies that the state agency is relying on while crafting its regulations.
“Arbitrary, politically motivated rules or hasty and unattainable regulations could result in costly ramifications, hampering the ability to produce essential products that we rely on every day,” said Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.
There is no question that PFAS are dangerous. Scientists and advocates are pushing industry executives and government officials to remove the chemicals from products and industrial processes unless there is proof they are needed to protect consumers or workers.
“We really need to be eliminating nonessential uses of PFAS,” said Arlene Blum, a chemist and the executive director of the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute. “There also needs to be a greater emphasis on finding safe alternatives.”
Among other lingering questions: Who pays to ensure water is safe to drink?
President Joe Biden vowed during his 2020 campaign to make PFAS a high priority for the federal government. His administration is planning to seek public comments this fall about legally enforceable drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS. The U.S. EPA also might add PFAS to the list of chemicals regulated under the federal Superfund law, which enables the agency to require polluters to clean up contaminated sites.
“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,” Michael Regan, the Biden EPA’s administrator, said last month.
Congress set aside $10 billion last year for loans and grants to finance PFAS-related projects. Some municipal utilities already are applying for low-interest, taxpayer-financed loans through the same program Freeport is relying on to free the city from contaminated water.
3M, Chemours and DuPont all said they oppose the potential Superfund designation. “We believe science-based federal standards will provide clear, uniform guidance for all,” DuPont said in its statement. “However, we believe there is risk of unintended consequences through a (Superfund) listing.”
More than a dozen Illinois communities are on record saying taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pick up the tab. In the Chicago area, Cary, Crest Hill, Lake in the Hills, Rockdale and South Elgin have joined hundreds of other cities and towns across the country suing 3M, DuPont and other PFAS manufacturers for clean water.
Rob Bilott, a Cincinnati lawyer who won PFAS legal settlements against DuPont in Ohio and West Virginia, is advising the team prosecuting the newer lawsuits, all of which have been funneled to a federal court in South Carolina.
“You’ve got these man-made toxins and we know who made them,” Bilott said. “But so far, unfortunately, the costs are being pushed down to all of us instead of the companies that are responsible. That just isn’t right.”
PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, highly toxic man-made chemicals used in industrial and consumer products since the 1950s.
The chemicals have been added to nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, firefighting foams, food packaging and other products that resist grease, oil and water.
PFAS persist in the environment and accumulate in people, animals and aquatic life. These “forever chemicals” are in the blood of nearly every American, including newborn babies.
Industry records show 3M and DuPont, the chief manufacturers of PFAS, hid what they knew about the dangers for decades. Beginning in the mid-2000s, independent studies linked exposure to very small concentrations of certain PFAS to cancer, birth defects, reproductive and immune system harm, high cholesterol and obesity.
How To Clean Your Guts Every Day – Top Surgeon Explains
Yet PFAS still aren’t regulated by the federal government.
1938: A DuPont scientist inadvertently discovers polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Eight years later, the company begins selling commercial products with PFTE under the Teflon brand.
1947: 3M begins mass producing PFOA, a PFAS chemical DuPont starts buying from its rival four years later to prevent Teflon powder from clumping during production.
1950: 3M mice study reveals PFAS build up in blood.
1953: A 3M chemist spills another PFAS called PFOS on a tennis shoe. The chemical repels oil and water, prompting the company to create the Scotchgard brand of anti-stain products.
1960: Food and Drug Administration approves Teflon nonstick cookware.
1961: DuPont confirms PFOA is toxic in animals and causes observable changes in organ functions.
1966: Working with 3M, the U.S. Navy secures a patent for aqueous firefighting foam, a PFAS-containing product. 3M sells it to fire departments in 5-gallon buckets.
1967: Food and Drug Administration approves Zonyl, a PFAS coating DuPont sells for food packaging.
1970: A company that purchased 3M’s firefighting foam finds it kills fish, prompting the abrupt halt of a pilot study.
1973: DuPont study documents liver damage from exposure to PFAS in food packaging.
1975: University of Florida researcher asks 3M whether Scotchgard and Teflon products are source of fluorinated chemicals detected in samples from New York and Texas blood banks. 3M executives “plead ignorance” but secretly confirm the findings.
1978: 3M concludes PFOA and PFOS “should be regarded as toxic.” DuPont worries PFOA might be causing ‘’toxic effects’’ among employees at its Teflon plant in West Virginia but does not share the information outside the company.
1980s: DuPont and 3M reassign female workers after children of Teflon plant employees are born with facial disfigurations and other birth defects. DuPont discovers high levels of the chemical in drinking water outside the Teflon plant. None of this is shared outside the company.
1998: 3M scientist Richard Purdy tells his bosses PFOS moves throughout the food chain. The company warns the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the first time that PFOS accumulates in human blood.
1999: Purdy quits 3M in protest, calling PFOS more damaging than banned PCBs.
2002: U.S. EPA concludes that cancerous tumors in rats exposed to PFOA “are relevant to humans.”
2004: DuPont settles a class-action lawsuit and agrees to finance a study of PFOA’s effects on people living near the company’s Teflon plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
2007: Study estimates PFOA and PFOS are in the blood of more than 98% of Americans.
2009: During the last month of President George W. Bush’s administration, U.S. EPA announces “health advisory” limits of 400 parts per trillion for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS in drinking water. But the agency declines to regulate the chemicals.
2009: Chicago Department of Water Management finds PFOS in treated Lake Michigan water distributed to more than 5 million Illinoisans, shortly after testing commissioned by the Chicago Tribune first revealed that PFOA and PFOS contaminate local drinking water.
2012: Landmark study of 70,000 people living near DuPont’s Teflon plant links PFOA exposure to six diseases: testicular and kidney cancer, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
2013-14: During a nationwide study of select water systems, U.S. EPA finds high levels of PFOA and PFOS in the drinking water of Freeport, a small industrial city west of Rockford. Neither federal nor state officials look for the chemicals throughout the rest of Illinois.
2016: U.S. EPA issues a more stringent health advisory for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water: 70 parts per trillion. President Barack Obama’s administration does not regulate the chemicals, though.
2017: After losing three personal injury lawsuits in federal court, DuPont settles dozens of others accusing the company of responsibility for PFOA-related health problems. DuPont agrees to pay $671 million to more than 3,500 people harmed. Three years later, the company settles 100 additional claims for $81 million.
2017: GenX, a Teflon PFAS that DuPont vowed was safer than PFOA, is detected for the first time in drinking water 100 miles downstream from the company’s Fayetteville, North Carolina, factory. The North Carolina State University researcher who found the chemical estimates at least 250,000 people are at risk.
2018: 3M agrees to pay $850 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota after high levels of PFAS are detected in drinking water near one of the company’s manufacturing plants in Cottage Grove, a Minneapolis suburb.
2019: PFAS contaminate drinking water or groundwater at nearly 400 military bases that used firefighting foam, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group finds. The number of bases with confirmed PFAS contamination jumps to 679 by July 2021.
2020: The Illinois EPA launches long-delayed statewide investigation of PFAS in drinking water.
2021: President Joe Biden’s administration announces a “strategic road map” to address PFAS pollution nationwide. Illinois EPA proposes PFAS limits in groundwater and vows to limit the chemicals in drinking water.
2022: Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul accuses 3M of failing to control PFAS pollution from a manufacturing plant on the Mississippi River upstream from the Quad Cities.
2022: U.S. EPA issues new, exponentially more stringent health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, concluding after a review of the latest research that there is essentially no safe level of exposure in drinking water. The agency also issues its first health advisories for Gen X and PFBS, chemicals that replaced PFOA and PFOS in many products. None of the advisories are enforceable, but the Biden administration promises to announce legal standards later in 2022.
Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois EPA, court records, Environmental Working Group, Tribune reporting.