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Deirdre Cummings

It’s our turn, Massachusetts - we cannot afford to wait

There is no denying it: Massachusetts has a water safety problem. Earlier this summer, public  drinking water systems in 50 cities and towns across the state, including Wayland, Natick, Easton, Acton, Mashpee and Ayer, tested above the new limit for the toxic, health-threatening class of fluorinated petrochemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). PFAS have also been detected in 100 percent of the 27 Massachusetts rivers tested, some of which are used for drinking water.

Even more troubling, this danger will only increase. Not only does the state still have many more water supplies to test, but the tests currently check for just a few types of PFAS -- even though many more exist. This means, even as we learn that an increasing number of Massachusetts towns have contaminated water, we still don’t know the full scope of the problem even in locations where the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is actively testing.

But beyond that, the biggest problem is that PFAS are known as “forever chemicals”, because they never break down. They are bio-accumulative, meaning as we continue to make and use them, they will continue to build up in the environment. So if your water supply tested shy of the maximum contamination level of 20 parts per trillion (ppt), unless the source is identified and removed, today’s 10 ppt will eventually become 20, and so on. Furthermore, many PFAS bio-accumulate in our bodies.

With all this in mind, Massachusetts can no longer turn a blind eye to this alarming issue. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems from kidney and liver disease to developmental problems and cancer. They are used directly in many everyday products, including food packaging, cookware, cosmetics, firefighting foam, and water and stain-proofing coatings used on furniture, carpets, outdoor gear and clothing. The production, use and disposal of these chemicals and products causes PFAS to pollute our water, soil and air. They then can enter our bodies. Ninety eight percent of Americans have PFAS in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The fight against PFAS isn’t easy, but we need to act to protect Bay Staters’ health. We need to identify and clean up existing pollution. We need to care for those affected. And we need to hold contaminators accountable for cleanup costs. That said, our efforts will be for nothing if we don’t stop PFAS contamination at the source. It’s pretty simple: If a bathtub is overflowing, you don’t start scooping out buckets of water to try to empty it. You turn off the faucet.

Seeing the danger, other states have already started to ban PFAS. Seventeen states have restricted PFAS in firefighting foams that are used to put out large fuel-driven fires.  Six, including Connecticut, New York and Vermont, have banned PFAS in food packaging. Vermont has also restricted PFAS in carpets and ski wax.  Others have banned PFAS in cosmetics and California looks like it is about to pass a ban on PFAS in children’s products. Most recently, Maine went even further, outlawing all non-essential uses of PFAS in the state by 2030 -- with additional restrictions on the chemicals in consumer products starting in 2023. The European Union has also announced a plan to eliminate all PFAS within ten years.

 It’s our turn, Massachusetts.

Our state government has already made some strides. Last year, the Department of Environmental Protection set a maximum contamination limit for some PFAS in groundwater and drinking water, started regular water testing, and provided some resources for PFAS water mitigation. The Department of Public Health is starting to test seafood for PFAS.  Currently, an interagency PFAS task force, chaired by Rep. Kate Hogan (Stow) and Sen. Julian Cyr (Truro) is meeting. The Task Force is charged with reviewing the extent of the PFAS problem in Massachusetts and recommending both regulatory and legislative changes necessary to protect the public from this contamination. They are required to provide answers by the end of the year. This session, legislators have also introduced bills that would phase out the use of PFAS in personal protective equipment for firefighters and ban PFAS in firefighting foam, food packaging, carpets, cookware, cosmetics, pesticides and more.

Our neighboring states have shown strong leadership with their commitments to phase out PFAS in consumer products.

It’s time for us to step up and turn off the tap on PFAS.

Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director, MASSPIRG

Clint Richmond, Executive Committee member, Massachusetts Sierra Club

Laura Spark, Senior Policy Advocate, Clean Water Action


MASSPIRG, Mass. Sierra Club, and Clean Water Action are part of a broad coalition of public health, environmental and community organizations advocating for strong PFAS policies to protect public health.

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