May 01, 2019

The Devilish Details

Bob Crossen headshot

Before I was the managing editor for Water & Wastes Digest, I worked for its sister publication, Water Quality Products in 2016 and 2017. At the time, I was new to the water industry and had little experience with its grander concerns. Obviously, the situation in Flint, Mich., was on my mind, but under the radar was the issue of Perfluoroakyl Substances or PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals used in teflon.

At the time I mostly was hearing concerns about it from the northeastern U.S., but interestingly enough, I had not heard anything about the deeper history as it relates to DuPont in Parkersburg, W.Va., which is the subject of the documentary “The Devil We Know.”

This documentary shines a light on issues that led to the prevalence of PFAS in the environment. It includes a gruesome video of cattle with the black teflon substance on their teeth and follows Bucky Bailey, who was born with deformities related to his mother’s exposure to PFAS while working at DuPont. 

The prevalence of PFAS around the globe is particularly disturbing. In fact, when studies were conducted to determine how common it was in people’s blood, they could not find a control group to test against. Researchers tested people in Europe, Asia and Africa and could not find a group of people without traces of PFAS in their blood. The researchers ultimately had to pull archived blood from before the Korean War to find samples without PFAS.

That was such a terribly alarming moment for me when watching the documentary because it showcased just how long PFAS has been a contamination issue without being addressed. The U.S. EPA is finally taking steps toward addressing it as a contaminant in water with its PFAS Action Plan, which is a good sign, but on the same token, it feels as though it is too little, too late.

Even so, it is still a regulatory issue that we will be continuing to cover as it would affect the entire industry if EPA were to implement a maximum contaminant level for PFAS and the family of substances connected to it. If that were the case, it would present challenges for utilities to get equipment to treat PFAS and difficulties for original equipment manufacturers, who would need to develop and provide those solutions.

Regardless, the PFAS issue will not be going away anytime soon, and I encourage everyone to watch “The Devil We Know” for a more detailed history on PFAS. And listen to our discussion about the documentary here.

About the author

Bob Crossen is managing editor of WWD. Crossen can be reached at [email protected] 

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