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KY Advocates Say ‘Forever Chemicals' Pose Health Risk


Tuesday, April 13, 2021   

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is slated to receive $75 million to jumpstart toxicity studies of industrial chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under President Joe Biden's recent budget proposal.

The plan is part of a nationwide effort to clean up contamination and implement regulatory standards.

Teena Halbig, co-founder and clean water chair of the Floyds Fork Environmental Association in Louisville, said Kentucky residents should be concerned about the presence of PFAS in drinking water.

A 2019 study confirmed their presence in 41 of 81 water-treatment plants across the state but so far, little action has been taken.

"I've been in many meetings with these kinds of things," Halbig recounted. "And I have never heard anyone speak of PFAS. I think it is a sleeping giant here, and it definitely needs some attention."

PFAS chemicals are used in nonstick cookware, cleaning products, clothing, firefighting foam and grease-resistant food packaging, and have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease and other health problems.

The EPA has issued health advisory levels on two compounds of PFAS, but environmental groups argue stricter and more comprehensive limits are needed to protect human health.

A 2020 study from the Environmental Working Group found out of cities sampled across the U.S., Louisville had the second highest level of a compound in the PFAS family called GenX in its drinking water.

Halbig added it's likely the state's military sites and surrounding areas also are contaminated.

"These are forever chemicals, because once they go into the environment, they do not break down, and they build up in our blood and in our organs," Halbig explained. "In fact, newborn babies today contain these in their blood."

In addition to cleanup efforts and filtration systems to help reduce PFAS exposure, Halbig believes the federal government should designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous waste.

"And also, the pressure needs to be on Congress, to start having these bills come forward and looking at the health of Americans," Halbig contended. "What is the cost of illness, what is the cost of losing a person's loved one?"

Earlier this year, the EPA announced it will collect new data on PFAS in drinking water and will move forward to implement the national primary drinking-water regulation development process for two PFAS-related compounds.

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