In New London, Blumenthal pushes for more federal action on PFAS

New London — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday the U.S. military is becoming a national model for efforts to phase out the use of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals.

Provisions for phasing out the use of PFAS — Per- and Polyflouroalkyl Substances — are contained in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which is set for a vote in the coming week in the U.S. Senate. Health studies have shown PFAS contain chemicals associated with cancer, liver damage, infertility, asthma and thyroid disease.

Speaking at City Hall, Blumenthal called for passage of the NDAA, which requires the Department of Defense to work with communities to test, monitor and clean up PFAS, as well as phase out the chemicals in meals-ready-to-eat, or MRE, packaging. PFAS are also used in such things as microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes and stain-resistant carpets. They are nicknamed “forever chemicals” because of their longevity in the environment and in human bodies.

While there is plenty of concern surrounding contamination by PFAS, there is no national health-based drinking water standard, Blumenthal said. He has joined a bipartisan effort to require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to designate the chemicals as “hazardous,” and therefore eligible for cleanup funds.

Gov. Ned Lamont this year set up a state task force after the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection found elevated levels of PFAS in fish in the Farmington River, the likely result of the spill of an estimated 20,000 gallons of water containing PFAS from a fire suppression system in a hangar at Bradley International Airport.

Blumenthal said federal military installations could serve as a model for the Federal Aviation Administration, which has balked at the use of an alternative foam at civilian airports. Airports in Europe already use the alternative foams, he said.

The state has recommended the testing of all public drinking water sources and private wells where spills have occurred as well as restricting the use of firefighting foam.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and Commission on Fire Prevention and Control jointly issued an advisory recommending fire departments discontinue use of older foams and use of modern foams “only when absolutely tactically necessary.”

New London Fire Chief Tom Curcio said foams are used for things like car fires at the scene of an accident where a gas spill could endanger victims and firefighters alike. Curcio said the department has nine five-gallon buckets of the older foam concentrate and will look to obtain funding to replace them with more an environmentally safe alternative, a product called Universal Green.

Curcio said the department has discontinued use of the foam containing PFAS in training exercises.

Blumenthal said he will continue to push for further measures to assist communities grappling with contaminated water and partnerships with communities like New London “who are joining the movement.”

g.smith@theday.com  

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