The May 28 issue of the Southern Maryland News contained two stories about PFAS chemical pollution. One was a report of a spill at the Patuxent Naval Air Station and the other was a report on the Navy’s May 18 virtual presentation disclosing massive amounts of PFAS pollution at the Navy Research facility in Chesapeake Beach.
PFAS are chemical compounds noted by fluorinated carbon chains—the carbon-fluoride link is the strongest known in organic chemistry and hence these compounds are referred to as “forever” chemicals. More than 4,800 different PFAS compounds have been marketed worldwide since the 1940s.
PFAS are ubiquitous in our environment with industrial and municipal smokestacks a leading source. They are in household products and are used commercially. AFFF, firefighting foam used at Navy facilities, is just one of many leading sources.
Negative human health impacts from minute quantities of certain older PFAS chemicals (PFOA and PFOS among others) are no longer disputed. Newer compounds are lacking is independent science and study, so the potential health impacts remain controversial. Animal studies on newer compounds, including those termed “short chain” and “Gen-X,” suggest the adverse health impacts are similar to the older compounds.
Dr. Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, argues that even minute amounts of PFAS are health concerns and that newer compounds act very similarly on lab rats. Therefore the whole class of PFAS should be regulated as one.
Birnbaum stresses that if PFAS can be detected in laboratory testing, then that sample is unsafe for our drinking water and food. Other scientists have suggested that PFAS in cosmetics, sunscreens, and lotions may be absorbed through the skin and have similar negative health impacts.
While one can argue this is emerging science, industry and the Navy have known since the 1970s of potential adverse health impacts on animals and humans. Yet they continue to manufacture and use these “essential products,” as they refer to them. The health concerns include cancers, birth defects, miscarriages, neurological and endocrine disruptions, among other less studied health impacts.
The EPA has failed to regulate chemicals having set maximum levels for less than a handful of new chemicals over the past several decades. This is inexcusable. Some states have stepped up but the regulatory limits they have set are widely varied. Maryland is still studying these toxins and has set no food advisories or limits for drinking water.
The levels found in ground water, soils, and subsoils in Chesapeake Beach are alarming. Likely they have contaminated the seafood and wildlife in the area. Little is known yet about our Chesapeake Bay seafood; independent testing has identified PFAS in oysters, smallmouth bass, blue crabs, and rockfish.
Are the levels detected dangerous? (Linda Birnbaum answers this with an unequivocal “yes.”)
Millions of people need to know the answer today. Congress must force the EPA to set standards and Maryland cannot wait for the EPA but must act this year to set regulatory limits for seafood consumption and drinking water. Our health is on the line.
Visit our informative web page at www.SMRWA.org/PFAS.html. We urge you to contact your legislators and ask them to take action.