For a decade Alabama regulators asked top state doctor to identify PFAS human health risks

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Newly discovered letters between Alabama’s environmental chief and top doctor reveal their concerns about potential health risks from PFAS chemicals, a position they have not embraced publicly.

The letters also show the state’s top environmental regulator has made multiple requests — spanning 11 years — for Alabama to establish PFAS human health standards.

The Alabama Department Environmental Director goes as far as to say PFAS chemical concerns have put the state in an “untenable situation” due to the lack of enforceable standards.

But no standards have been established, records show.

PFAS chemicals have contaminated drinking water in Lawrence County, soil in Morgan County, and the Tennessee River. 3M produced the non-stick chemicals at its Decatur plant for decades.

In a letter dated September 27, 2018, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) Director Lance Lefleur renewed his request for the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to create enforceable drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals. Lefleur sent the letter three days after WHNT News 19 reported that Lawrence County residents felt abandoned by the state of Alabama after unhealthy levels of PFAS chemicals were found in their drinking water in 2016.

“Uncertainty about appropriate cleanup and instream values, coupled with concerns about other PFAS chemicals, has resulted in the untenable situation of knowing there is a potential health risk associated with PFAS but having no enforceable drinking water and environmental standards to address that risk,” wrote Lefleur.

Lefleur noted that the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS chemicals in drinking water is not enforceable in Alabama.

September 2018 wasn’t the first time Lefleur asked ADPH to create drinking water standards for the chemicals. He made the same request of ADPH in 2011. And former ADEM Director Trey Glenn requested PFAS drinking water standards in 2007 after it was identified that 3M and Daikin  America produced the chemicals at their plants in Decatur.

Doctor Scott Harris, with ADPH, did respond three months after Lefleur made the third request. Harris told the environmental chief ADPH is aware and shares concerns regarding PFAS chemical contamination. Harris noted that the lack of enforceable standards for drinking water and environmental management is unsatisfactory.

The state’s top doctor proposed a PFAS workgroup with ADEM to determine the extent of PFAS chemical problems statewide and if health standards are “technically feasible.”

Harris told Lefleur ADPH reviews evidence as it emerges. Still, at the time, the agency did not plan to deviate from the federal health advisory of 70 parts per trillion of PFOA and PFOS chemicals.

In a January response letter to Harris, Lefleur agreed that the state will use the EPA’s non-enforceable health advisory limits until the federal government adopts regulatory standards for PFAS chemicals.

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