(CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency has invited governors from across the country to a summit in D.C. this spring to develop a multistate strategy to combat pollution from perfluorinated compounds, a group of manmade chemicals linked to increased risk of cancer and developmental problems in children.
The compounds, also known as PFCs or PFOAs are found in thousands of products – everything from cosmetics to firefighting foam – in other words, in just about any manufactured good intended to be resistant to water, fire or dirt.
According to EPA data, health effects of the chemicals include changes in growth, learning and behavior in children, as well as lowering a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, interfering with the body’s natural hormones, increasing cholesterol levels, affecting the immune system, and increasing the risk of cancer.
The EPA also said the compounds don’t dissipate in the environment like other chemicals - once they’re in the ground, they there to stay unless remediation takes place. Many large companies have since stopped using them after the EPA began issuing regular warnings about them, but their inability to break down means their history of use continues to plague former manufacturing communities.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement that the upcoming conference is intended to bring stakeholders from across the country together to build on the work his agency has already undertaken, including testing over 5,000 water systems for the compound in the last few years.
“Through this event, we are providing critical national leadership, while ensuring that our state, tribal, and local partners have the opportunity to help shape our path forward,” he said.
One of the communities that had its water tested as a result of the stepped-up EPA scrutiny was Blades, Delaware, which has had other contamination issues in the past.
Tests of Blades' drinking water found elevated levels of perfluorinated compounds, and that prompted the state to shut off the water until new filters could be installed and the water declared safe for consumption.
“People were concerned about what might have been in the water,” said Blades' native Ray Hastings, president of the city's volunteer fire department. After a robocall informed residents of the problem, members of the National Guard assembled at the firehouse to distribute bottled water.
The state then installed a carbon filtration system to remove the compounds, and turned the water back on two weeks later.
Tim Ratsep, administrator of site investigation and restoration at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, told Courthouse News that the EPA's interest in Blades stemmed in part to the government's past interaction with an electroplating facility located in the city, Procino Plating Inc. In 2013, the company's owner pleaded guilty to one count of discharging wastewater from its facility without a permit.
At the time, the wastewater -- a byproduct of chrome plating -- was deemed "corrosive" because of its elevated ph level.
“It was the plating operations that made us go ahead and sample the Blades well," Ratsep said.
"We have not identified the source or sources of why the PFCs are in the towns wells," he added, stressing that the cooperative investigation with the EPA is ongoing.