The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s chief science officer testified about the high prevalence of man-made chemicals known to harm human health around industrial and military sites in the state before a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday.
Scott Mandirola, also the department’s deputy secretary, joined three other witnesses before the Environment and Public Works Committee to call for greater federal oversight of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), citing a state-initiated study of community water systems that recently found five sites that tested positively for PFAS beyond the federal health advisory limit.
“We need a method of keeping this material out of the environment,” Mandirola said. “Not necessarily outlawing the material, but if industries are going to use it for the benefit of all, there needs to be a method of treatment, capture, proper disposal so that we keep this material out of entering the environment.”
PFAS have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the human body. The chemicals can be found in not just drinking water but food and household products.
Research shows high levels of certain PFAS may lead to increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, increased risk of high blood pressure in pregnant women, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased cholesterol levels, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Mandirola testified that a study that a West Virginia Senate resolution directed the departments of Environmental Protection and Health and Human Resources to initiate last year has revealed that public water systems serving Lubeck, Vienna, Parkersburg and Glen Dale along the Ohio River and Martinsburg in the Eastern Panhandle tested positively for the presence of PFAS, including the common industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) above the federal limit.
Mandirola said the Lubeck, Vienna and Parkersburg water systems’ PFOA contamination is due to the production and use of PFOA at the nearby Chemours Washington Works facility, where DuPont operated for six-plus decades prior to spinning off its performance materials division to Chemours in 2015.
The Martinsburg water system is contaminated mainly by PFOS from fire-fighting foam at a local military site, Mandirola noted.
Mandirola reported that PFOS contamination in Glen Dale’s water system is likely related to the historical use of compounds in the metal plating industry, though he added that further investigation is underway.
The study encompassing the state’s 279 public water systems will be completed next year after data analysis is conducted, Mandirola said. The U.S. Geological Survey completed sampling in May, and data will be uploaded to a Geological Survey database following final review.
“The next step in the protection of public health is the development of safe exposure limits for PFAS compounds,” Mandirola testified to committee members, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the committee’s top-ranking Republican.
Mandirola noted that although some states have developed their own maximum contaminant levels, West Virginia is relying on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop national guidelines and regulation for protecting human health from PFAS.
Joining Mandirola in urging the federal government to institute a federal drinking water quality standard were fellow witnesses Joanne Stanton, co-founder of Pennsylvania-based Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water and New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney.
G. Tracy Mehan III, executive director of governmental affairs for the American Water Works Association, stressed the importance of significantly greater funding for water systems to perform remedial work necessary to limit the presence of PFAS in drinking water.
Later this month, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission will begin its own PFAS-focused study spanning the entire length of the Ohio River, according to Mandirola.
“We just need to get a handle on what’s out there,” West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser said.
An ardent proponent of a federal drinking water standard, Capito applauded West Virginia’s PFAS study efforts.
Federal public health officials expect to release a report later this year summarizing their findings following testing of 275 residents in Berkeley County for PFAS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, performed exposure assessments in Berkeley County in the fall of 2019 after they started testing in communities near current or former military bases known to have had PFAS in their drinking water.
The Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base previously used aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS to fight fires and train workers, according to federal public health officials. The compounds later moved offsite in groundwater, likely affecting the City of Martinsburg’s Big Springs well supplying drinking water to both the city and a small percentage of Berkeley County customers.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the individual and community-level PFAS test results in May 2020 that showed two PFAS (PFOS and perfluorohexane sulfonate, or PFHxS) above national averages. The levels of five other PFAS, including the common industrial chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), were similar to or below national averages, according to the agency.
But the final site-specific report will take a deeper look at the data and the information collected from participants via questionnaires to learn if and how levels of PFAS vary by characteristics such as age, and sex, and other social and demographic and exposure characteristics (such as length of residency in the community and amount of water consumed).
Parkersburg was the site of DuPont’s Teflon factory, which, for decades, discharged PFAS into drinking water supplies beginning in 1951. DuPont agreed not to use PFOA after 2015, but an October 2020 House Environment subcommittee letter noted a continued PFOA presence at the Chemours (formerly DuPont) Washington Works facility in Parkersburg.
People living in the area experienced increased rates of testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. DuPont was sued by more than 3,000 Mid-Ohio Valley residents, leading to it paying nearly $700 million in settlements.
Eric Engle of Parkersburg, chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, said that the level of concern over PFAS remains high in the valley and that the greater scrutiny of the chemicals that followed the class-action lawsuit and the 2019 film “Dark Waters” about the PFAS case against DuPont in Parkersburg has led to a false sense of security.
“[W]e have to address this issue,” Engle said.
ST. IVES, England — The Group of Seven nations are set to commit to sharing at least 1 billion coronavirus shots with the world, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Thursday, with half coming from the U.S. and 100 million from the U.K. as President Joe Biden urged allies to join in speeding the pandemic’s end and bolstering the strategic position of the world’s wealthiest democracies.
Johnson’s announcement on the eve of the G-7 leaders’ summit in England came hours after Biden committed to donating 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and previewed a coordinated effort by the advanced economies to make vaccination widely and speedily available everywhere.
“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners,” Biden said, adding that on Friday the G-7 nations would join the U.S. in outlining their vaccine donation commitments. The G-7 also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The prime minister’s office said the first 5 million U.K. doses would be shared in the coming weeks, with the remainder coming over the next year. Biden’s own commitment was on top of the 80 million doses he has already pledged to donate by the end of June.
“At the G7 Summit I hope my fellow leaders will make similar pledges so that, together, we can vaccinate the world by the end of next year and build back better from coronavirus,” Johnson said in a statement referencing the U.S. president’s campaign slogan.
Earlier Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the U.S. commitment and said Europe should do the same. He said France would share at least 30 million doses globally by year’s end.
“I think the European Union needs to have at least the same level of ambition as the United States,” he said at a news conference. He added that time was of the essence, saying, “It’s almost more important to say how many (doses) we deliver the next month than making promises to be fulfilled in 18 months from now.”
The G-7 leaders have faced mounting pressure to outline their global vaccine sharing plans, especially as inequities in supply around the world have become more pronounced. In the U.S., there is a large vaccine stockpile and the demand for shots has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
Biden predicted the U.S. doses and the overall G-7 commitment would “supercharge” the global vaccination campaign, adding that the U.S. doses come with no strings attached.
“Our vaccine donations don’t include pressure for favors or potential concessions,” Biden said. “We’re doing this to save lives, to end this pandemic, that’s it.”
He added: “Our values call on us to do everything that we can to vaccinate the world against COVID-19.”
The U.S. commitment is to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer doses for distribution through the global COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, bringing the first steady supply of mRNA vaccine to the countries that need it most.
The Pfizer agreement came together with some urgency in the last four weeks at Biden’s direction, said a senior White House official, both to meet critical needs overseas and to be ready for announcement at the G-7. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, added that the Biden administration was to apply the same wartime posture applied to the vaccine rollout in the U.S. to its effort to share vaccines globally.
Biden said the 500 million U.S.-manufactured vaccines will be shipped starting in August, with the goal of distributing 200 million by the end of the year. The remaining 300 million doses would be shipped in the first half of 2022. A price tag for the doses was not released, but the U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion commitment.
The well-funded global alliance has faced a slow start to its vaccination campaign, as richer nations have locked up billions of doses through contracts directly with drug manufacturers. Biden’s move, officials said, was meant to ensure a substantial amount of manufacturing capacity remains open to the wealthy nations. Just last month, the European Commission signed an agreement to purchase as many as 1.8 billion Pfizer doses in the next two years, a significant share of the company’s upcoming production — though the bloc reserved the right to donate some of its doses to COVAX.
COVAX has distributed just 81 million doses globally and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.
White House officials said the ramped-up distribution program fits a theme Biden plans to hit frequently during his week in Europe: that Western democracies, and not authoritarian states, can deliver the most good for the world.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that G-7 leaders are “converging” around the idea that vaccine supply can be increased in several ways, including by countries sharing more of their own doses, helping to increase global manufacturing capacity and doing more across the “chain of custody” from when the vaccine is produced to when it is injected into someone in the developing world.
Biden, in his remarks, harked back to the Detroit-area workers who 80 years ago built tanks and planes “that helped defeat the threat of global fascism in World War II.”
“They built what became known as the arsenal of democracy,” Biden said. “Now a new generation of American men and women, working with today’s latest technology, is going to build a new arsenal to defeat the current enemy of world peace, health and stability: COVID-19.”
He noted that Pfizer’s main COVID-19 vaccine plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is not far from Detroit.
Last week, the White House unveiled plans to donate an initial allotment of 25 million doses of surplus vaccine overseas, mostly through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program, promising infusions for South and Central America, Asia, Africa and others.
Officials say a quarter of that excess will be kept in reserve for emergencies and for the U.S. to share directly with allies and partners, including South Korea, Taiwan and Ukraine. Johnson said the U.K. would follow a similar model with its doses, holding 20% in reserve for bilateral agreements but sending the vast majority to COVAX.
China and Russia have shared their domestically produced vaccines with some needy countries, often with hidden strings attached. Sullivan said Biden “does want to show — rallying the rest of the world’s democracies — that democracies are the countries that can best deliver solutions for people everywhere.”
The U.S.-produced mRNA vaccines have also proven to be more effective against both the original strain and more dangerous variants of COVID-19 than the more conventional vaccines produced by China and Russia. Some countries that have had success in deploying those conventional vaccines have nonetheless seen cases spike.
The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s “West Virginia Museum of Music” will hold an open house Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Charleston Town Center mall in the former Books-A-Million store.
The open house will feature performances by several Hall of Fame inductees, including John Ellison, Bob Thompson and Mountain Stage host Larry Groce. Others schedule to perform include Vince Lewis, Jim Martin, Randy Gilkey and Mike Pushkin.
The museum project is a work in progress, but visitors will be able to see turn-of-the-century lithographs of music publisher and composer E.T. Paul, framed posters from notable West Virginia music events, and vintage amplifiers and recording equipment.
Those who have not been vaccinated are asked to wear face masks to the open house.
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