EPA-recommended chemicals levels in water too high: U.S. report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The risk level for exposure in water to common chemicals used in Teflon and firefighting foam should be at least seven to 10 times lower than the threshold recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a draft report released on Wednesday that the White House and EPA had tried to keep from publication.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released the draft study of the controversial class of chemicals called PFOA or PFAS for public comment.

Trump administration officials warned in internal emails made public last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists that the report would cause a “public relations nightmare” if released because the risk levels are much lower than those set by the EPA. The Trump administration stopped the publication of the study earlier this year.

The chemicals in question, which have been used for decades in products like Teflon and other non-stick products and firefighting foam, have contaminated water systems. Companies like Dow Chemical and 3M have faced numerous lawsuits from people exposed to the chemicals in their water supply.

More recently, communities around military bases in states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia have been exposed to PFAS water contamination because the Defense Department uses foam containing the chemicals for military exercises.

Public water systems, private drinking wells and military water supplies have been treated on a 2016 EPA recommendation that advised people not to drink water if it had more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOA and PFOS chemicals, a level that some researchers said was inadequate to protect public health.

The HHS agency said the level should be 7-ppt for PFOS and 11-ppt for PFOA -- the two common PFAS compounds.

The chemicals are linked to cancer, liver and thyroid damage, and other health and fetal effects. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in certain states have expressed alarm over exposure to the chemicals.

Environmental and health groups have said the report’s findings would be essential for states that need to clean up PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

“After repeatedly pushing the administration to make these findings public, I’m very glad to see it release this study today,” said Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia. “The information contained in the report will help determine potential threats our communities face as a result of certain water contamination issues.”

Also known as C8, the chemical was used at companies like DuPont in West Virginia and other states since the 1950s to make Teflon and other nonstick products, and has affected area residents.

“This study confirms that the EPA’s guidelines for PFAS levels in drinking water woefully underestimate risks to human health,” said Olga Naidenko, senior science adviser at the Environmental Working Group, an environmental watchdog group.

She said EPA should use the report’s finding and collect and publish all water results showing PFAS contamination at any level, “so Americans across the country can take immediate steps to protect themselves and their families.”

A recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group showed that tap water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans are contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler