New Data Exposes Incompetence of Leadership of Baltimore Department of Public Works

October 8, 2019
 Water

Documents reveal water line repair program helped only 8 low-income water customers

Documents obtained by the Maryland Legal Aid reveal that the Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) has utilized only 2 percent of the special assistance fund set up to help low-income residents repair water infrastructure that homeowners are responsible for maintaining. The documents were released today to media sources by the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition and can be accessed here and here.

In 2014, the City established the Hardship Fund for Emergency Water and Wastewater Services using proceeds from an exclusive arrangement with HomeServe, which provides optional service agreements to repair customers’ water and sewer lines on their private property. Through this contract, HomeServe is able to send their marketing materials using Baltimore’s city seal, making the solicitations appear as though they are actually coming from the city. The fund managed by HomeServe has $775,000 in allocated funds but has provided only $15,327 in assistance to low-income customers. In five years, only 8 customers have been helped.Screenshot shows only $15,327 of $775,000 in funds set aside for low-income water billing assistance in Baltimore have been used by the City's Department of Public Works.

“We requested this information through a Maryland Public Information Act request because we have struggled to have our clients enrolled in this program,” said Robin Jacobs, a Staff Attorney with Maryland Legal Aid. “We are concerned that the Department of Public Works is denying our low-income clients access to assistance that is available.”

“Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service has tried for years to enroll our clients in this hardship program and we simply never heard back from the Department of Public Works,” said Amy Hennen with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “Our clients are really suffering and we fear that the Department of Public Works is unjustly denying them aid. That is why we urge the city council to pass the WAEA to create a strong, independent Customer Advocate’s office that can ensure low-income households are receiving available assistance.”

The Water Accountability and Equity Act (WAEA), which will go to a second-reader vote before the Baltimore City Council on October 28, will create two things: an income-based water affordability program to provide assistance based on need and a new Office of Customer Advocacy and Appeals to provide independent problem-solving investigations for all customers of the water and sewer system.

“The Customer Advocate would review whether customers are being unfairly denied support from the Hardship Fund and similar programs, including water bill discounts for the elderly and the ill, and the reimbursement program for sewage backups,” said Jaime Lee, Associate Professor and Director of the University of Baltimore School of Law Community Development Clinic. “Just as importantly, the Advocate would also increase transparency and propose systemic changes at DPW to help ensure that these programs aren’t just empty promises, but are actually used to improve the lives of Baltimore City residents.”

On September 26, DPW Dir. Rudy Chow introduced amendments to WAEA, which would remove the affordability program, water shutoff protections, shutoff notification requirements, and the entire Office of Customer Advocacy and Appeals. In their place, Dir. Chow proposed codifying the Department’s existing assistance program and procedures as well as his new appeals process with the Environmental Control Board — none of which would provide additional relief or help to customers denied access to the Hardship Fund or the reimbursement program for sewage backups.

“Dir. Chow has proposed a complete gutting of WAEA and it is unacceptable,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director of Jews United for Justice. “His amendments undermine the principles and objectives of the legislation, attempting to deny Baltimore residents the true affordability, accountability and equity in our city’s water billing system that we deserve and is long overdue. We need the City Council to rise to the challenge, stand with the people of Baltimore, and reject his weakening amendments.”

“This new information about the Hardship Fund shows yet again Dir. Chow cannot be trusted to assist low-income water customers in Baltimore,” said Mary Grant from Food & Water Action. “On the heels of his proposed gutting of WAEA and the recent report that his department is denying 85 percent of reimbursements for sewage backups, this new data points to a trend with his leadership and a refusal to work in the interest of the people of Baltimore. Baltimore needs an independent Office of Customer Advocacy and Appeals through the WAEA to inject accountability and justice into these decisions.”

Baltimore Advances Water Justice Measure

September 26, 2019
 Water

By Jackie Filson

Three years of grassroots work later, a cutting-edge piece of water justice legislation in Baltimore has finally advanced.

The History of Baltimore Water Justice

In 2016, community members outraged by widespread issues with unaffordable and incorrect water bills formed the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition. Since then, the group has worked tirelessly to pass legislation that would mandate a more just and accessible public water program. They want to cap water bills for low-income households at a level they can afford to pay based on their income and provide a vital problem-solving framework to resolve customer disputes.

The bill, named the Water Accountability and Equity Act, was introduced in 2018 by then-Council President Jack Young. Since introduction, it has garnered across-the-board support from Baltimoreans and city leaders with only one main obstacle: the leadership of the Department of Public Works (DPW). The legislation has had a public hearing and two work sessions while in committee.

The Obstacles to Baltimore Water Justice

DPW Director Rudy Chow presents last-minute amendments at council hearing on Water Accountability and Equity Act.

 

 

DPW has refused to consider the legislation every step of the way, evaded meetings with water justice advocates, and withheld important data. Meanwhile, water rates in Baltimore have continued to grow exponentially, and residents have continued to receive incorrect bills with pending resolutions.

The coalition has worked diligently to find common ground with DPW but has received minimal feedback and general neglect.

Eventually, DPW even drafted their own much weaker legislation that would help fewer Baltimoreans at a higher cost.

DPW’s “BH2O Assists” and “BH2O Assist Plus” programs (which sounds alarmingly like the “H2O Help to Others” program run by the largest investor-owned water company in the US) do not provide income-based bills and thus would leave water bills unaffordable for the nearly 30 percent of Baltimore households making less than $25,000 a year. They would also fail to reach and serve the vast majority of renters, who comprise 53 percent of Baltimore households. In fact, under their programs, renters are required to obtain express permission from the homeowner, adding another roadblock to affordable and accountable water for renters.

According to estimates from the City Council President’s Office, compared to BH2O Assists, the Water-for-All affordability program is projected to cost $19 million less over 5 years and serve an additional 3,000 people because it customizes bills to match what households need instead of providing a flat discount.

The Current Status of Baltimore Water Justice

Water advocates stand with Vice-President of the Baltimore City Council Sharon Green Middleton who is also chair of the Taxation, Finance and Development Committee.

At the second work session for the bill, four months after the initial committee hearing, DPW dropped 14 pages of late-in-the-game, last-minute amendments despite claiming they would have none up until the night before. DPW is trying to undermine legislation that would save them money, increase transparency, and create affordable rates for low-income families. 

However, the City Council is standing strong for Baltimoreans and moved the comprehensive Water Accountability and Equity Act through committee during this work session after months of delaying for DPW —> and every member of the committee voted favorably.

The bill is now one HUGE step closer to becoming a reality despite DPW’s best efforts. 

How to Improve Baltimore Water Justice

When passed, the bill will do two top-line and revolutionary things for Baltimore’s public water system:

  1. Establish a water affordability program to help all low-income families, including renters who make up a majority of the city and are currently denied assistance no matter their income;

  2. Create a new independent Customer Advocate’s Office to work with customers to address billing concerns.

Last month, DPW announced a new appeals process through the City’s Environmental Control Board, but the regulations fail to provide independent decision making as they give DPW Director Rudy Chow a final say over every stage of dispute resolution, and they omit critical timelines for reaching a resolution.

Director Chow has proven himself to be incompetent at addressing billing concerns, and now he’s opposing oversight.

The only true solution for Baltimore’s water crisis is the Water Accountability and Equity Act.

How A Grassroots Coalition Stopped A Corporate Water Grab In New Jersey

September 19, 2019
 Democracy Water

Suez and a Wall Street firm teamed up to win a huge contract in Edison. What stood in their way? The people of Edison.

When water giant Suez and Wall Street partner KKR made their move to win a $811 million, 40-year water and sewer privatization deal in New Jersey, they had enough money to buy ads on TV and Facebook, and deliver round after round of fear-mongering junk mail to residents’ mailboxes.

On our side, we had a kind of power that money can’t buy: Volunteers and interns going door-to-door, and fired up residents who demanded a voice in their town’s future. We had people power.

Edison NJ residents banded together to take control of their water systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suez never stood a chance. 

In a stunning win for public water, voters in Edison, New Jersey voted 84 percent to 16 percent in favor of bringing their sewer system and part of their drinking water system under public control. This makes the town—the fifth largest in New Jersey—the third municipality in the country to effectively ban water privatization, and the first to do so via citizen-initiated referendum.

How on Earth did a small, determined group of residents go to battle with a giant multinational corporation and a Wall Street investment firm… and win in a landslide?!

CHIP IN FOR WINS LIKE THIS!

Back in February, Edison Mayor Tom Lankey unveiled the proposal that was apparently in the works for months: The township would sign off on a 40-year, $811 million contract. Initial reports stressed that the upfront payment would help pay for new facilities, including a $40 million community center. But those are exactly the kinds of promises water privatizers like to make; residents are left to find out the hard way that’s not the way it works out. 

There was instant community opposition to the proposal. Residents packed public meetings demanding to know when the deal had been negotiated, why they weren’t informed about the process, and why in the world anyone would take these companies at their word. Just a few miles north, the city of Bayonne has been saddled with a nightmarish long-term contract with the same two companies. 

We knew there was a way to give the public a voice. Thanks to a state law, residents in some New Jersey towns can gather petitions that require their elected officials to consider a new ordinance; either the town council passes the ordinance outright, or it goes to the voters to decide in an election. Our initiative posed a simple question: Should Edison control its own water and sewer system?

We hit the streets to collect enough names to put the issue on the political agenda for the town. Within a month, our organizers, volunteers, interns and community members collected over 5,000 signatures. 

Then, Edison residents started hearing about a mysterious group that was going around calling themselves the Edison Utility Improvement Program. That official-sounding name was a ruse, though; we filed a public records request and discovered that this was a campaign paid for by Suez to sow confusion and mistrust in the community. 

It backfired spectacularly. Even Mayor Lankey, a champion of the Suez deal, came out and forcefully denounced the bogus campaign. 

Nonetheless, in July Edison’s Township Council decided, in a 4-3 vote, to not adopt the ordinance immediately. That put this question to the voters on a special election ballot. And that’s when the next phase began. 

Who’s Knocking?

The key to this election was turnout. We already knew that the more voters learned about the deal, the more they were likely to oppose it. We needed them to know that voting ‘yes’ for public control would preempt the privatization effort, and we had to do the hard work to get them to vote by mail or show up in person on election day — phone banks, text campaigns, and good ol’ fashioned knocking on doors. 

By the time election day rolled around, homemade VOTE YES signs were popping on lawns and intersections all over town. Suez made one last push, sending VOTE NO advertising trucks all over town, dozens of door-knockers, and even Suez employees. In the end, the companies spent a staggering $119,000 to swing votes their way– that adds up to about $73 per vote. By comparison, Food & Water Action spent about $2,000 encouraging Edison to vote “yes.”

Edison residents banded together to stop the Suez corporation from taking over their water and sewage.

The Big Picture

Edison is just the third municipality in the country to outright ban water privatization, bringing their water and sewer systems under public control. Until now, only Baltimore, Maryland and Northampton, Massachusetts have taken this step. 

But this win is bigger than that. Edison is the first community in the country with privatized water to go to the ballot to change the law to require public control. The community is re-municipalizing its water system by popular referendum. This is democracy in action. 

And better yet—voter turnout was remarkably high for a special election in September. Over 10,000 votes were cast, for a turnout of about 18 percent. As one state politics site pointed out, that was almost as many voters who turned out for a special election in 2013 for a U.S. Senate seat. It turns out that water can be a winner at the ballot box. 

Of course, we must think big when it comes to improving access to safe, clean and affordable public water. That’s why we’re pushing elected officials to support the WATER Act, which would provide the federal funding to help other communities bring their water into public hands, replace lead service lines, repair outdated infrastructure and create a truly 21st century water system across the country. 

Will you celebrate Edison’s win with us by telling your congressperson to co-sponsor the WATER Act?

TELL YOUR CONGRESSPERSON! 

Michael Hickey Testimony On Forever Chemicals

September 18, 2019
 Water

Testimony of Michael Hickey

Before the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

“The Administration’s Priorities and Policy Initiatives under the Clean Water Act”

 September 18, 2019

“Good morning. Thank you, Chairwoman Napolitano, Ranking Member Westerman, and members of the subcommittee for the invitation to speak today and tell my story.

My name is Michael Hickey. I live in Hoosick Falls, which is in upstate New York near the Vermont and Massachusetts border. I was born and raised there with my brother, my sister and my parents.

Hoosick Falls is my home, and it is a casualty of PFAS water pollution that’s left its toxic mark on my family and my neighbors.

Just months into his retirement, my father, John Hickey, was told he had kidney cancer. He passed away from this disease in 2013. A year after that, a teacher passed away in her late 40s from cancer. There was speculation around town about how many people were getting these rare illnesses. When you’re in a smaller community like Hoosick Falls, you pay attention to that, and I thought there might be something to it.

I knew our village’s water wells sat next to the local manufacturing facility that produces Teflon products, so I did a google search for “Teflon” and “cancer.” What I found was a C8 science panel from West Virginia and the first thing under the related illness section was a “probable link” between PFOA and kidney cancer – the very disease my dad passed away from.

Teflon is the brand name of a lab-made chemical used in a variety of products, such as nonstick pots and pans. In my hometown, it was used to waterproof big tents. Teflon is made using a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, that is PFOA or C8, which is in the PFAS chemical family. These PFAS compounds are known as ”forever chemicals” because they don’t really break down in nature. They have been linked to a variety of health problems, from adverse impacts on the liver and the immune system to cancer.

I had never been involved with any environmental issues before, so this was all new to me. I probably read about three hours a night for the next couple of months to try to figure it out. When I thought that I had enough information, I passed it on to a local physician and I asked him to take a look to see if there was a connection. He did. He thought there was a higher incidence of those illnesses in our community.

At that point, we approached the mayor and asked if the city had tested for PFOA, but they had not because the EPA did not require it of smaller systems at that time.

I wanted to be able to sleep at night. I wanted to know if our water was making us sick. So, I looked up who did the testing for the DuPont study and it was a lab out of British Columbia, Canada. After contacting that lab, I went and I tested the water at my house, my mother’s house, the local dollar store, and the local McDonalds. The results came back two weeks later – and they were positive for PFOA. My mom’s house had the highest at 540 ppt; mine was 460 ppt. At that point, I knew we had a big issue.

Over the next 7 months, I worked with an environmental attorney out of Albany to look into the issue. He reached out to Judith Enck, who was the EPA administrator of Region 2 under the Obama Administration at the time.

Ms. Enck came in and right away basically cut off the entire village from drinking the water. Shortly after that, the village became a Superfund site. To date, there’s been about $30 million spent in Hoosick Falls on updating filtration, blood testing, and remediation. We’re still looking for an alternate water source, so there’s still things to be done, but it’s been a long process.

That’s why I’m here today to ask the EPA to do better to prevent contamination in the first place. We need improvement in water infrastructure and to pay more attention to monitoring these chemicals. From what I’ve observed, this current administration is not as aggressive as the previous one. I met with Director Ross earlier this year and I was unimpressed with the lack of urgency that he gave this issue.

Like the new mayor of Hoosick Falls, I view the EPA’s so-called action plan for PFAS to be more of an inaction plan that further delays regulating these toxics. For example, the plan would delay determining if the EPA could possibly regulate PFAS under the Clean Water Act until 2021. The science is clear that we need to protect our water sources now from further pollution from these dangerous chemicals. We should limit PFAS discharges to water bodies by adding PFAS limitations to NPDES permits and developing ambient water quality criteria for PFAS.

The EPA is failing to do its job to protect us. We need a real action plan that treats this issue with the urgency and importance it needs. We need a plan that:

  • Regulates PFAS immediately under the Clean Water Act;
  • Cleans up the sources of contamination and contaminated water supplies;
  • Makes the polluter pay for water contamination cleanup, including the military, which is responsible for many contaminated sites around the country;
  • Sets enforceable standards for drinking water for the entire class of PFAS chemicals;
  • Provides funding to help communities like Hoosick Falls provide safe water; and
  • Provides training for healthcare professionals and medical monitoring in impacted communities.

We need Congress to step up to make sure that smaller communities like Hoosick Falls are taken care of and that they’re safe. These illnesses are real. They’re affecting people every day.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Hoosick Falls Background

Hoosick Falls, a village of 3,500 people northeast of Albany, has become one epicenter of growing concerns around perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an industrial chemical used to make Teflon. It has been called New York’s Flint.

In 2014, testing revealed high levels of PFOA in the drinking water. The majority of samples revealed PFOA levels exceeding 600 ppt, which was far higher than the EPA health advisory of 400 ppt at the time. Today the advisory level is 70 ppt, and there is evidence that this level is still far too high. Blood testing results were similarly alarming. Many residents were found to have PFOA levels in their blood that were 100 times the national average.

The source of the contamination appears to be a nearby plastics factory, now operated by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which used PFOA in its manufacturing process. Groundwater under a Saint-Gobain plant was found to have PFOA levels at 18,000 ppt. The EPA has added the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site to its Superfund National Priorities List of the most hazardous waste sites in the country, which requires the agency to ensure that the contamination is cleaned up.

Hoosick Falls is still waiting on a real plan to connect to a new, safe municipal water supply.

PFAS Background

Per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS) are a group of lab-made chemicals first created in the mid-twentieth century that have caused widespread water and food contamination. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their virtually nonexistent natural breakdown over time. As local, state and federal agencies expand testing for PFAS, we are beginning to understand the true scale of the problem. They are found in hundreds of locations across the country, affecting the water supply for millions of Americans. 

PFAS have been used to coat a wide range of products to protect against heat, chemicals and corrosion, and they have been used in aqueous film-forming foam to extinguish petroleum fires. While their stable chemical structure and ability to repel both water and oil makes them attractive for a wide variety of applications and products, these characteristics are also the very ones that have led to their widespread contamination of the environment and people.

PFAS chemicals have been found in nearly the entire U.S. population, and a growing body of science has been documenting their toxicity and public health impacts. A 2003 to 2004 survey by the U.S. government estimated that over 98 percent of the U.S. population had detectable levels of PFAS in their blood.

PFAS is a big chemical family. As of 2018, at least 478 PFAS chemicals had been reported to the EPA as being used in U.S. commerce. Other sources report that thousands of PFAS chemicals have been produced and used by various industries, in both the United States and around the world. The most studied and pervasive forms are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

  • PFOA has been used in the production of the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), best known by the brand name Teflon, which was first synthesized in 1938 by a DuPont scientist and came into widespread use in the 1960s. The compound also has been used in waterproof textiles, electrical wire casing and more.
  • PFOS has also been used in the production of everyday household items. One of the most well-known products that contained PFOS was 3M’s line of Scotchgard stain repellants. PFOS also has been used in pesticides, surface coatings for carpets, furniture, waterproof apparel and paper goods.

Recent reports show that new generations of PFAS, such as GenX, have been on the rise, with concentrations vastly exceeding those of the legacy PFAS chemicals. Despite claims of low bioaccumulation, emerging PFAS chemicals are as environmentally persistent as their predecessors. Additionally, there is evidence that these newer chemicals can break down to form their legacy counterparts.

While awareness of these substances seems to have gained momentum in the last few years, evidence of their stubborn persistence and toxicity has been around since the late 1960s and 70s, only to be overlooked until relatively recently. This resulted in delayed intervention, allowing the continued release of the substances into the environment.

Toxicity

PFAS chemicals pose serious risks to human health, and emerging evidence indicates that even very low levels of PFAS exposure may not be completely safe for human health, particularly vulnerable populations such as infants. Infants may be especially vulnerable because of PFOA contamination of breast milk and because of their higher intake of water relative to their body weight. PFOA and related substances have been found in human maternal and cord blood in North America and abroad.

There are a number of well-documented health effects associated with exposure to PFOA and other PFAS chemicals: high cholesterol; thyroid disease; reproductive effects, including decreased fertility and pregnancy-induced hypertension; decreases in birth weight; adverse impacts on the liver and on the immune system; decreased vaccine response; ulcerative colitis; and neurobehavioral effects such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

PFAS chemicals may cause cancer. The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classifies PFOA as a Group 2B carcinogen, or “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The U.S. EPA concludes that there is “suggestive evidence” of carcinogenicity of PFOA in humans. Highly exposed humans were observed to have correlating increases in testicular and kidney cancer.

Water Treatment

According to the EPA’s Drinking Water Treatability database, PFOA and PFOS can be removed by up to 99 percent by processes such as granular activated carbon, membrane separation, ion exchange and powdered activated carbon. Aside from these technologies, PFAS removal is resistant to many, if not most, water treatment processes, while other technologies may in fact increase their concentrations. Other processes, such as powdered activated carbon, are effective at removing older PFAS chemicals, but become less effective with newer forms of PFAS, many of which are replacing the older “legacy” types of PFAS.

Weak regulations

PFAS are not currently regulated under the Clean Water Act, and there is no enforceable federal standard for PFAS chemicals in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Information on industrial PFAS releases is sparse. Facilities are not required to test for or report PFAS wastewater discharges since the EPA has not classified any of these chemicals as toxic pollutants or hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA has established a lifetime drinking water health advisory level of 0.07 micrograms per liter (mg/L), or 70 ppt, for PFOA and PFOS, but it has not yet issued an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level for drinking water. The health advisory level falls short not only in lack of effectiveness, but in stringency. Emails disclosed in early 2018 found that the EPA suppressed a scientific assessment of PFASs from a federal health research agency that recommended a much more stringent level of protection that was nearly 7 to 10 times lower than the EPA’s health advisory.

The EPA Needs a Real Plan of Action

As we begin to understand the scope of the problem, emerging research tells us that there are no ‘safe’ levels of PFAS in our drinking water. The EPA’s PFAS Action Plan announced in February fails to implement immediate limits to effectively regulate PFOA and PFOS, or other PFAS.  In addition, there are concerns about conflicts of interest within the agency. David Dunlap, a former Koch Industries official, runs the EPA’s research arm that will shape regulations for dangerous chemicals in our water, such as PFAS. This raises red flags because Koch Industry’s Georgia Pacific company is facing at least one class action lawsuit in Michigan related to PFAS contamination,[1] and as of February 2019, a company spokesperson said it may still be manufacturing products with these chemicals.[2]

The EPA needs a real plan of action that immediately protects people and the environment from these dangerous chemicals:

  • The EPA must regulate PFAS under the Clean Water Act requiring enforceable effluent limits in NPDES permits and developing ambient water quality criteria for PFAS.
  • The EPA must regulate PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act by setting enforceable limits on PFAS in drinking water as soon as possible.
  • The EPA must regulate all PFAS chemicals as a class, rather than individually. Because of the number of different chemicals that are PFAS, considering them as individual chemicals will require too many resources and too much time. After decades of delay and widespread exposure by a large portion of the population, action is urgently needed and the fastest way to tackle this issue is to regulate PFAS chemicals as a class.
  • Due to widespread PFAS contamination of water supplies nationwide, the EPA must allocate funds to states and municipalities for the testing and any needed treatment of drinking water from community water systems and individual household wells. If treatment or groundwater remediation is untenable or unsuccessful, support should be provided to connect systems and households to alternative water supplies. Congress should provide federal funding to ensure that every household has access to clean, PFAS-free water.
  • To assist communities in assessing the extent of the contamination of their water systems, EPA should provide guidance on testing for PFAS and investigate the possibility of using a broader screen, such as total organic fluorine level.
  • The EPA must research water treatment technologies that address the removal of the newest generation of PFAS.
  • The EPA should provide guidance and resources to test individual household water wells for PFAS contamination, and the Agency should provide support for nonprofit technical assistance to households and small community water systems to test and remove PFAS from drinking water.
  • The EPA should ban the use of sewage sludge (biosolids) as a soil amendment. 
  • The EPA must more clearly communicate information about health risks to the public, particularly regarding new generation PFAS chemicals.
  • The EPA must do a better job at monitoring these emerging contaminants and informing the public of their prevalence and toxicity. The EPA collects data for six types of PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS. However, there are hundreds of PFAS that are documented in U.S. commerce that lack sufficient environmental and health data. Emerging PFAS contaminants like GenX and others, used to replace legacy chemicals, have growing, but still relatively little, data on their prevalence in the environment and their toxicity.
  • The EPA should designate PFAS as Hazardous Substances under CERCLA.
  • The EPA should finish the recommendations for contaminated sites, including providing guidance on water treatment technologies.
  • The EPA should provide support for communities dealing with contaminated sites, including establishing biomonitoring and medical monitoring programs, as well as education for medical professionals in impacted communities.
  • The EPA should expand its PFOA Stewardship Program to work toward the complete elimination of all new manufacturing and import of all types of PFAS chemicals, including newer generation, shorter-chain compounds, to prevent further contamination.

The American people have been exposed to these toxic chemicals for decades without any safeguards. It’s beyond time to start the work to address this crisis. Our country deserves an urgent and comprehensive response to this crisis.”

[1]  Barrett, Malachi. “Lawsuit alleges 3M and Georgia-Pacific caused Parchment PFAS emergency.” MLive. November 21, 2018.

[2] Snider, Annie. “Former Koch official runs EPA chemical research.” Politico. February 4, 2019.

We’re Literally Eating and Drinking Plastic. Fossil Fuels Are To Blame.

July 10, 2019
 Climate Water

The plastics industry sees fracking as a huge opportunity for their profit margins. But plastic has already entered our food and water supply and our bodies—one more reason we need to move off fossil fuels before the problem gets even worse.

By Darcey Rakestraw

Care about plastic pollution? Then it’s time to work to start moving away from fossil fuels.

Plastic is a serious problem, and it’s time we addressed it at its source: fossil fuel production. Plastics are increasingly fueled by fracking in the U.S.—the extreme method of extracting fossil fuels that is polluting our air and our water, and exacerbating climate change. Fracking provides the cheap raw materials for plastics production, which has lead industry publication Plastics News to say fracking “represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” More fracking equals more profit in plastics (which equals, you guessed it…more plastics.)

It is so pervasive in our environment that it’s become commonplace to digest it through the microplastics present in our food and water.

Plastic in Water, Salt…Even Beer?

Everyone drinks water, and whether you drink tap water or bottled water, you are very likely ingesting some level of plastic pollution. A recent study by Orb Media tested 159 drinking water samples from cities and towns around the world, and 83 percent of those samples contained microplastic fibers. That means food prepared with plastic-contaminated water becomes contaminated as well.

Bottled water samples fared even worse than tap water—unsurprising because it is manufactured with plastic. Another recent study by the same organization found 90 percent of bottled water analyzed from around the world contained plastic microfibers. A single bottle of Nestlé Pure Life had concentrations of microfiber plastics up to 10,000 pieces per liter. The type of plastic used to make bottle caps was the most common type of microplastic fiber found in bottled water.

In response to the mounting evidence showing plastic is present in our drinking water, the World Health Organization is now looking into the problem.

Plastic has also been found in sea salt, and researchers attribute that to the ubiquitous nature of single-use plastics such as water bottles, which comprise the majority of plastic waste. In 2015 about 70 percent of plastic water bottles went unrecycled, and much of this plastic waste ends up in landfills, incinerators or in—you guessed it—our oceans and seas. Plastic has also been found in seafood, beer, honey and sugar.

We need more research on the extent of microplastic pollution and the best ways to treat water to remove it. It’s also clear that we need to upgrade water treatment plant infrastructure so it can handle this new pollutant. But the best way to address this pollution is at the source by reducing plastic waste in the environment.

Fracking in the U.S. Promotes a Global Plastics Bonanza

Fracking, which causes many negative public health problems and harms our air, water, and climate, is now powering a dangerous plastics bonanza. It was the rapid expansion of fracking in the United States that led to a gas glut, which drove real natural gas prices to the lowest level in decades. This is where the plastic industry came to the rescue of the oil and gas industry: low-cost ethane, a byproduct of fracking, is used to manufacture plastics.

Both plastic and ethane are being exported across the globe. More than half of the raw plastic produced in the U.S. is headed to distant shores. Whereas the chemical giant Ineos, based in the United Kingdom, is receiving ethane to help fuel European plastic factories. The controversial Mariner East pipeline system delivers this gas byproduct to the Marcus Hook export terminal in Pennsylvania—where it is then carried via massive “dragon ships” across the Atlantic to Ineos’ facilities in Grangemouth, Scotland and Rafnes, Norway.

What represents an “opportunity” for the plastics, oil, and gas industries means adverse health effects and climate catastrophe for all of us. To learn more about the toxic relationship between the plastics and fracking industry read our recent report, and spread the word: we can’t tackle plastic pollution without moving off fossil fuels. Will you help us put a stop to the fracking-to-plastics pipeline by chipping in once a month?

It Turns Out Fracking Is A Water Hog That’s Stealing Our Futures

July 10, 2019
 Climate Water
A team of Duke University researchers are delivering a truth that’s hard to swallow and that some of us predicted — fracking is resulting in the disappearance of usable water. Will the people listen and do something in time?

For years, the American people have been assured by energy companies that fracking is harmless and doesn’t use more water than other energy sources. The Duke research team that recently put out a new report begs to differ. They examined data across 12,000 wells and five years of operation. Here are key findings from the report and what they mean for our survival.

The Findings

Water is staying trapped in the shale, or if it does re-emerge, isn’t treated: 

Only a small fraction of the fresh water injected into the ground returns as flowback water, while the greater volume of FP (flowback and produced) water returning to the surface is highly saline, is difficult to treat, and is often disposed through deep-injection wells.

Right: Charts showing the increase in water use intensity over time. Left: Charts showing the decrease in usable Flowback & Produced waters over time. Courtesy of Duke University via Creative Commons.

The amount of water used by fracking has been critically underestimated.

The study finds that from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased by as much as 770 percent. In an interview for ThinkProgress, one of the authors of the study explained how early estimates of fracking’s irresponsible use of water had been so skewed:

“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking… After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources.”— Avner Vengosh, Duke professor of geochemistry and water quality

The toxic wastewater produced is a much bigger problem than previously understood.

The study found that toxic wastewater produced from fracking had increased up to 1440 percent between 2011 and 2016. There has been no satisfactory practice of water treatment that returns this water to usable condition for humanity — and at this scale, one can reason that fracking is on pace to destroy U.S. water sources and leave us without water for our population’s consumption: 

The total water impact of hydraulic fracturing is poised to increase markedly in both shale gas– and oil-producing regions. On the basis of modeling future hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States in two scenarios of drilling rates, we project cumulative water use and FP water volumes to increase by up to 50-fold in unconventional gas-producing regions and up to 20-fold in unconventional oil-producing regions from 2018 to 2030, assuming that the growth of water use matches current growth rates and the drilling of new wells again matches peak production.

What We Do Next Is Critical

Waiting another five years for a new report to bolster this or to show an even bigger spike in fracking’s greedy water consumption is not an option.

“At a time when large parts of our county are suffering through persistent droughts and year-round fire seasons, it’s truly unconscionable that the fossil fuel industry would be allowed to divert vast volumes of water to fracking for oil and gas. The fact that the burning of this oil and gas is driving our climate chaos and intensifying the droughts and fires makes this reality all the more shameful and absurd.” – Seth Gladstone, Food & Water Watch

Organizations like Food & Water Watch and people like you need to double down on our efforts to ban fracking now and to move to 100% renewable energy ASAP. Humanity doesn’t get a do-over on saving our water supply. Help us do this work by chipping in as a monthly donor! 

Duke’s full report is available here: