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Superfund’s Next Challenge: Small-Town PFAS Contamination (2)

Oct. 30, 2019, 5:57 PMUpdated: Oct. 30, 2019, 8:36 PM

A Delaware town that discovered PFOA and PFOS in its drinking water more than a year ago may become part of the EPA’s flagship cleanup program.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to add contaminated groundwater in Blades, Del., to its list of Superfund sites, which are the most contaminated in the country. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, including PFOA and PFOS, have been found in drinking water systems throughout the U.S.

It’s “very likely” the EPA will identify more potential Superfund sites with PFOA and PFOS contamination, said Sarah Peterman Bell, partner at Farella Braun + Martel LLP in San Francisco, Calif.

In addition to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—also known as PFAS—metals and hexavalent chromium have been found in Blades’ groundwater, according to the EPA. The town has a population of fewer than 1,500, according to the Census Bureau.

“The metals are clearly a secondary issue,” said Jeffrey Dintzer, partner at Alston & Bird LLP’s Los Angeles, Calif. office. “This is all driven by PFOA and PFOS.”

The agency announced its intention to propose Blades’ groundwater for the National Priorities List Oct. 30, but the proposal doesn’t become official until it is published in the Federal Register.

State Sought EPA Help

The PFAS-contaminated groundwater is in a residential part of Blades, where the governor ordered citizens in February 2018 to stop drinking city-provided water and switch to bottled water because of contaminants in the municipal supply. The town installed a carbon filtration system to reduce the amount of PFAS in their drinking water.

In May, Blades residents filed personal injury and property damage claims against E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co., Chemours Co., 3M Co., and a plating company that may be contributing to the groundwater contamination, Procino Plating Inc. The plaintiffs claim they have been exposed to harmful amounts of PFAS through well water and the municipal water supply.

The chemicals are associated with adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancers, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.

Delaware asked the EPA to get involved at the site to help understand the extent of the groundwater contamination, according to EPA documents.

Blades’ groundwater would not be the first Superfund site with known PFAS contamination. In Hoosick Falls, N.Y., groundwater at the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics facility was contaminated with PFOA and trichloroethylene. The Saint-Gobain site joined the Superfund list, also known as the National Priorities List or NPL, in 2017.

PFAS have not yet been declared hazardous under the federal Superfund program, but community concern is driving sampling and restrictions at the state level.

“If PFOA and PFOS are among the bases for identifying a potential NPL site, it certainly begs the question as to why those two chemicals at a minimum have not already been declared hazardous substances,” said Rob Bilott, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cincinnati.

In Delaware, PFAS are considered hazardous, and the state can order groundwater and surface water sampling to determine whether such substances are present.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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