Federal action on chemicals seems to be slowing, even as the number we encounter daily grows. With the Trump administration seemingly getting the federal government out of the business of cleaning up the environment, states will have to show the way. Before President Trump was elected, Massachusetts, California and Maine led the charge, regulating certain toxic substances that the federal government had let slip by. Now Washington State has moved to the fore in this fight.
When Stephen Swanson, a retired E.R. doctor, learned that his drinking water contained the industrial pollutant PFOA and several related chemicals, he was alarmed. Dr. Swanson, who lives on Whidbey Island, Wash., began to search for information about the chemicals, trying to figure out how they had gotten into his well and whether the contaminants that he and his family had been drinking for years might have affected their health.
What he found was worrisome. PFOA, best known for its use in the making of Teflon and other nonstick products, had seeped into his well water from a nearby Naval air station that had used firefighting foam that contained the chemicals. PFOA, he learned, stays in human bodies for years and endures in the environment for millenniums. Even at very low levels, exposure to the chemical had been linked to certain cancers, thyroid disease, pre-eclampsia and other health problems. There is also a substantial literature showing that PFOS, a closely related chemical also used in firefighting foam, could lead to a similar constellation of effects.
Washington State has gone well beyond the EPA in banning a class of chemicals that research suggests could be dangerous.