The Bush Administration set a standard Thursday for the amount of the toxic chemical C8 that can be in drinking water.
Environmentalists are calling it a last-minute gift to the chemical industry. Chemical maker DuPont says the level is consistent with regulations in most other states and countries.
C8 helps make non-stick pots and fast-food containers. It’s been used in a DuPont plant near Parkersburg since the 1950s.
Scientists have found elevated levels of C8 in drinking water around the plant, and in the blood of workers and residents.
Some studies have linked C8 to health problems, and a massive study is underway in the Parkersburg area.
Yesterday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory outlining what the agency sees as an acceptable level of C8 in drinking water: point-four parts per billion.
That number was based on studies on mice and monkeys, and a complicated mathematical formula to assess risk.
The new EPA standard is slightly better than an existing standard of point-five parts per billion set for the Parkersburg area in a recent court settlement.
But it’s about ten times weaker than one the C8 standard in New Jersey.
President-elect Obama’s pick for the new EPA chief set that state’s standard when she headed New Jersey’s environmental protection agency.
That makes Joe Kiger suspicious of the timing of this announcement. Kiger is a teacher who lives near the DuPont plant.
“This is wrong of the Bush Administration, especially on his way out, to do what he’s always done, which is protect industry, and overlook the health of the people,” Kiger said.
An EPA spokeswoman did not answer questions about the advisory, but she confirmed it was issued Thursday. The existence of the advisory was first reported in the Charleston Gazette Wednesday.
The EPA advisory does not mention West Virginia. It talks about an incident in Alabama where sewage sludge from a local wastewater plant was spread on pasture, and C8 ended up in the bloodstreams of local cows.
Tests of groundwater there showed C8 levels much lower than the new EPA standard.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner declined to comment on tape or answer questions. He issued the following statement on C8, which is also called PFOA:
"We are reviewing the document, and at this time, it appears the advisory value for PFOA is consistent with nearly all regulatory guidelines established by EPA regions, states and other countries," the DuPont statement says.
Joe Kiger says it could be two more years before the big epidemiological study is complete. Until then, he says no standard can be regarded as safe.
“To set a safe level right now, it would have to be zero parts per billion,” Kiger said.
“They don’t know what this stuff can do. Nobody, evidently, can tell us that. That’s what we’re waiting on,” he said.