Forever chemicals: The threat of PFAS in our water

Forever Chemicals in Drinking Water - PFAS Contamination Sites

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are showing up in soil, ground water, drinking water sources

CBS Sunday Morning Report

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAS) are long-lasting compounds that are showing up in soil, ground water, drinking water sources, even rainfall, and have been linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, and other ailments. By some estimates, this toxic family of chemicals can be found in the blood of nearly every person on the planet. Correspondent Lee Cowan looks at how the chemicals got here, and talks with families, farmers, and health advocates fighting for clean, safe water.

PFAS #waterpollution #contaminatedwater

Video Transcript

0:01it’s a silent threat lurking  where you’d least expect it  

0:04in our drinking water we assume of course it’s  safe but scientists are warning about a common  

0:09and potentially dangerous chemical that can  survive in the ground and in our water forever

0:18on a cold winter day on the stone  ridge dairy farm in arundel maine

0:25fred stone was more worried about  his cows being cold than himself  

0:31especially his prized brown swiss named blue she  likes to give me a hard time as much as she can  

0:41fred and his wife laura are only the  latest generation to work this dairy  

0:45it’s been in the family for over a  century but since november of 2016  

0:53every drop of milk that white gold that’s  been a reliable livelihood for generations  

1:00is now being poured right down the drain  that’s a hell of a waste even i can’t drink it  

1:09he had no idea the waste water that the state  licensed him to use to fertilize his fields  

1:14was also swimming with potentially toxic chemicals  called pfas now his land his cows and yes their  

1:24milk are all contaminated have you ever heard  of pfas or any of these chemicals never a lot of  

1:31people haven’t pfas is an acronym for a family of  man-made compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl  

1:39substances the cdc has listed a host of health  effects believed to be associated with exposure  

1:45to those chemicals including cancer liver damage  increased cholesterol and a lot more the chemicals  

1:53are so highly mobile they’re not only being found  in soil and groundwater but in the atmosphere too  

1:59in fact they’ve even been detected in raindrops  falling in some of the most remote areas of the  

2:04world this story is about a new plastic material  trademarked teflon pfas chemicals have been around  

2:14for decades oh good thing it’s teflon dupont  was the first to use pfas in teflon giving us  

2:23those non-stick pots and pans half of this piece  of carpet has been treated with this new finish  

2:31the other half has not 3m used a different  pfas in its once popular fabric protector  

2:37scotchgard today those chemical cousins can still  be found in almost anything designed to fend off  

2:45oil or water or grease that includes things like  pizza boxes paper plates rain jackets ski wax even  

2:53guitar strings pfas are basically impossible to  escape and scientists say they are likely here  

3:00to stay they are nearly indestructible you just  can’t get rid of them you can’t get rid of them  

3:06patrick macroy the former deputy director of  the advocacy group defend our health in maine  

3:12explains just why that staying  power is so very troubling  

3:17a lot of chemicals when they go into your body  or when they end up in the environment they break  

3:21down they slowly decompose pfas don’t do that once  you put pfas somewhere it’s going to stay there  

3:28practically forever that means the levels of  the so-called forever chemicals can build up and  

3:34linger in our bloodstreams forever how high were  your levels when they told you about your water  

3:39they’re supposed to be under 40  parts per trillion hours is 26 000.

3:50Cathy and bruce harrington who live next to  a farm were notified by maine’s department  

3:55of environmental protection that their drinking  water was tainted with pfas the likely source  

4:01was two industrial plants not far away your well  is right there yep well is right there they’d come  

4:09and tested out water and they said we’ll send  you a report in a couple of weeks or whatever  

4:13and they called us in a few days and they said  do not drink your water don’t use it for cooking  

4:18nothing oh for what asks bruce bottom line is  we don’t need freaking eggs to slide out of pans  

4:26versus people dying pfas contamination  is really a national crisis and the real  

4:33scale of contamination is is staggering  the more we test the more we find it  

4:39melanie benesh legislative attorney at the  environmental working group in washington  

4:43says thousands of sites nationwide are polluted  with pfas and she lays the blame for that growing  

4:49crisis squarely at the feet of the companies  who invented the chemicals in the first place it  

4:55is the manufacturers like dupont and 3m who have  gotten us here today so they’ve known for 70 years  

5:04that they were poisoning the water and they didn’t  tell the epa they didn’t tell their neighbors they  

5:09didn’t tell their workers they didn’t tell anyone  because they were making too much money in the  

5:14last two decades thousands of lawsuits have been  brought against the manufacturers for allegedly  

5:19knowing pfas chemicals were dangerous while most  deny they did anything wrong settlement offers  

5:25have been pouring in to the tune of billions  of dollars but benesh says the manufacturers  

5:32aren’t the only ones to blame there has also  been regulatory failure the fda knew in the 1960s  

5:39the department of defense knew in the 1970s the  epa has known since at least the 90s and they  

5:46didn’t treat the issue with the amount of urgency  that it needed regulating pfas is like playing a  

5:53game of whack-a-mole dupont and 3m phased out two  of the pfas suspected of being the most harmful  

5:59but they still manufacture others in fact there  are thousands of variants many of them have  

6:06real similarities that make it very likely that  one is just as toxic as the other take this plant  

6:13dupont built in north carolina back in the 70s  and then spun off to a different company called  

6:18chemours back in 2015. it’s almost like a forensic  kind of activity almost a decade ago detlef knappe  

6:26an environmental engineering professor  at north carolina state university  

6:30started testing the water near that plant that  sits right along the cape fear river in 2017  

6:37his research made headlines the study said a new  pfas called genx was clearly present in the water  

6:45if you look at this there’s there’s you know  the water is completely clear and there’s really  

6:50nothing wrong with it but it does have very high  levels of pfas in it you know several thousand  

6:56nanograms per liter it’s unholy we live in  america i should be able to enjoy a shower  

7:04and not worry that it’s going to give me or my  kids cancer i don’t know that i shuffled these  

7:08cards emily donovan a mother of two lives about  80 miles downstream from the chemours plant the  

7:15cape fear river is a source of drinking water for  more than 350 000 people in and around wilmington

7:24she like most people just always assumed  it was safe the epa doesn’t require  

7:31utilities to regularly test for them so there’s  really no way for the average american to know  

7:36if it’s even in their drinking water right now  or in their food or in their air based on what  

7:42it called new evidence this past june the epa did  update its drinking water advisories about pfas  

7:50warning that even the tiniest amounts over  a lifetime may be enough to cause negative  

7:55health effects in humans but it stopped short of  creating a new federal drinking water standard  

8:01there has been no new drinking water standard in  the united states since the 1990s 30 years do a  

8:09post with some of that emily co-founded clean  cape fear it’s a community action group that among  

8:16other things has been fighting for both federal  and state agencies to crack down harder on all  

8:22of the pfas pollutants you have two choices you  can you can have a breakdown about it or you can  

8:32channel that energy and that heartbreak into  something productive and create a positive  

8:38chemours was forced by state environmental  regulators to install a host of anti-pollution  

8:42technologies it’s cost them millions in a  statement to cbs news the company says it’s  

8:48destroying over 99.99 of pfas in the air and it’s  reduced pfas compounds reaching the cape fear  

8:55river by 97 percent as for pfas that have built  up in the ground over the years chemours says  

9:02it will build a barrier wall that will capture  and treat the groundwater a process it says will  

9:08remove nearly all of them the exposure has dropped  dramatically for people who live downstream it’s  

9:17much tougher for the people who live immediately  around the planet whose wells are contaminated  

9:23this is two weeks old feedly okay what professor  knappe is now interested in investigating is to  

9:29see just how much of any pfas is present in the  food grown nearby we have analyzed some of the  

9:37produce from backyard gardens in that area  that suggests the levels can be quite high  

9:44i’m scared that it is too late i’m scared that  we’re gonna die because of what we’ve ingested  

9:50residents like jane jacobs a member of the  native tuscarora nation have always seen the land  

9:56as sacred but she fears the blight on her tribe’s  land might just end a way of life my people have  

10:03always hunted in these swamps but they’re fed  by the rivers so now the animals are polluted  

10:09the same way the water’s polluted because they  drink out of the rivers and out of the swamps  

10:14what do you think reuben you’re not going  to make any sound are you no one who lives  

10:19off the land would willingly poison it there  you go fred is certainly one of those people  

10:26as are farmers in nearly every state who use  treated wastewater to nourish their fields  

10:32he just like his father and his grandfather  before him saw their soil as part of their soul  

10:39cold and drought were supposed to be the  biggest threats not a chemical made by man  

10:47at some point in time i’m going to have to tell  my my father and my grandfather what i did with  

10:52the farm that they entrusted me with but this  wasn’t your fault though it wasn’t my fault  

10:57but it was under my watch now it’s it’s going to  be gone so that’s it that’s the end of the road


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