Vermont’s drinking water is under threat from dangerous substances found in products we use every day. PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) are toxic chemicals that have been detected in public water supplies, private wells, and groundwater in many cities and towns across the state, spurring long-overdue action from state officials.
That’s good news because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to have forgotten that its mission is to protect public health and the environment, and it has done little to safeguard the public from the dangers of PFAS in our water.
The actions taken by the State to date, however, are just a start and do not guarantee that our drinking water is truly safe. We must keep up the pressure on regulators to protect Vermonters and take commonsense steps to eliminate this toxic threat from our waters.
What Makes PFAS So Dangerous?
PFAS are toxic even in tiny quantities. They are such a problem because they are used in so many products we use in our homes every day. Often called “forever chemicals,” they never fully break down once they’re in our environment and can linger in our bloodstreams for decades. Everything from food packaging to water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, cosmetics, firefighting foams, and pesticides all contain these harmful substances.
Severe health problems can result from exposure to PFAS. Kidney and testicular cancer; impaired liver, pancreatic, and immune system function; thyroid disease; fertility and pregnancy issues; high blood pressure; and growth and learning problems in infants and children have all been linked to these forever chemicals.
On top of these already serious health threats, a former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recently warned that exposure to even small amounts of PFAS and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals could make people more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Vermont Finally Taking Action
These dangerous chemicals have already been found in Vermont’s waters and soils. In March, the Agency of Natural Resources finalized drinking water standards for five dangerous PFAS. These standards require public water systems in Vermont to monitor for these toxics regularly and treat unsafe levels of them in drinking water.
Regulating these five PFAS as a group is a start in protecting the health of Vermonters, but it is not enough. There are more than 8,000 kinds of PFAS, and if we are serious about protecting communities from these toxic chemicals, we must remove each and every one from our drinking water.
Recent test results show that Vermont’s drinking water contains more than these five PFAS, and many water supplies have dangerous levels of these chemicals. The State undertook these tests as a result of CLF’s tireless advocacy on this issue, and we will continue to be involved as the State begins another round of rulemaking to regulate additional kids of PFAS chemicals.
Total Inaction at the Federal Level
Action by EPA is long overdue, but don’t expect it any time soon. The science linking PFAS to these terrible health risks is not new. In fact, EPA has known about these hazards for decades. Chemical manufacturers – powerful companies like DuPont and 3M – have known of the risks for far longer, yet they have recklessly continued producing PFAS. Meanwhile, EPA has repeatedly looked the other way and allowed these companies to continue polluting our waters while failing to take meaningful action to protect us.
We know what must be done, but EPA seems incapable of doing it. With federal regulators abandoning their responsibility to protect public health, Vermont must step up.
Although the State has taken critical first steps to clean up our drinking water, the work will not be done until we stop chasing these chemicals down one by one and remove all PFAS from water supplies.
In August, the Agency of Natural Resources will begin a public process to decide whether to set new drinking water standards that will protect us from all PFAS. We must make our voices heard during this process and let officials know that nothing less than the full removal of PFAS from our drinking water will suffice.
You can help by attending public hearings and submitting written comments to the Agency of Natural Resources urging them to protect Vermonters from all PFAS. Be sure you’re signed up for emails from CLF so we can let you know when to take action.