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February 23, 2005

Bureau of National Affairs

Drinking Water Utility Says Problems Arise From Lack Of Guidance on Perfluorooctanoic Acid

By: Pat Phibbs

The lack of both drinking water standards and clear information about risks posed by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is making it difficult for an Ohio drinking water facility to serve its customers, the general manager of that facility told an Environmental Protection Agency advisory board Feb. 22.

PFOA levels in water delivered to its customers has tripled from 2 parts per billion to 7.2 ppb over the last year-and-a-half, Robert Griffin, general manager for the Little Hocking Water Association Inc., told EPA's PFOA Risk Assessment Panel during the public comment session of the two-day meeting.

PFOA levels in one well reached 78 ppb, forcing the Little Hocking to stop using that well, he added.

Those levels rose despite reported reductions in PFOA emissions from DuPont's Washington Works facility in West Virginia, located on the Ohio River opposite Little Hocking, Griffin explained. DuPont uses PFOA, also called C-8, and telomers, a group of chemicals believed to break down into PFOA, Griffin told the panel.

Airborne releases of PFOA have been thought to blow across the river and get into Little Hocking's wells. The Little Hocking Water Association is a nonprofit rural water system located in southeastern Ohio that serves about 12,000 people.

Having to close a well "leaves us no opportunity to perform maintenance on the remaining wells. It also endangers our ability to have enough capacity to adequately serve our customers' needs," Griffin said.

The panel, part of EPA's Science Advisory Board, will evaluate the data and methods EPA used in a draft risk assessment of PFOA released Jan. 12 (9 DEN A-9, 01/13/05 ). The PFOA panel's face-to-face meeting ends Feb. 23, although work on its advice to EPA will continue.

Griffin said he spoke during a public comment session of the panel's meeting "to put a face on the individuals that are directly affected by your technical review and conclusions. We are here to ask that you conduct your deliberations so that individual people and public health principles are not forgotten in the data that you will review."

To the best of his knowledge, Griffin said, Little Hocking has the highest levels of PFOA contamination of any public water supply in the United States.

'Ever-Changing' Guidelines

Complicating the situation are the "ever-changing guidelines for exposure to C-8," Griffin said.

Some years ago, DuPont sought to limit the community's exposure to PFOA to no more than 1 ppb, Griffin said. In March 2002, as part of a consent order between EPA's Region III and Region V and DuPont, the company was to provide drinking water if the levels of PFOA exceeded 14 ppb. In August 2002, an expert panel convened by West Virginia developed what it called a health protective screening level of 150 ppb.

This confusion about an acceptable level of PFOA has compelled Little Hocking "to inform our customers that they utilize and drink our water at their own risk," Griffin said. "I can tell you that wasn't easy."

Griffin urged the PFOA panel to "put public health first" as it discusses the scientific information about the chemical and to consider whether other perfluorinated compounds that may also be present where PFOA is found could also pose potential health risks.