It was a political decision by the Dunleavy administration to accept higher levels of so-called PFAS pollution in drinking water, a move that generated internal opposition from scientists at the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health and Social Services.
That’s clear now from an internal memo, obtained by CoastAlaska, that goes into detail on the objections. The Dunleavy administration has killed stricter regulations, stopped testing for some contaminants and allowed higher levels of two contaminants that will still be monitored.
“These actions have been taken against the recommendations of career environmental and public health professionals in both DEC and the DPHSS,” wrote Sally Schlichting, a manager of the contaminated sites program for DEC. “The recommendations of staff in our two agencies to regulate these chemicals are based on the body of scientific research available about PFAS, which continues to point to a wide array of health impacts including intergenerational toxicity, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity and certain cancers.”
In the April 28 memo, Schlichting said state health department staff had found nearly 90 studies that identify health effects for two of the compounds that the administration has decided that it will not regulate or test for. One of those chemicals is PFNA, which is the major pollutant found in Kimberly Lake in North Pole, which has now been closed to fishing because of health worries.
Schlichting said the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in a draft report on 14 PFAS chemicals, recommended a minimum risk level of 7 parts per trillion for one chemical, compared to the 70 parts per trillion advisory from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Multiple other states with robust toxicology programs are setting levels for one or more PFAS that are significantly more stringent than the EPA” lifetime health advisory, she wrote.
As to what other scientific and political concerns have come up in other public documents created by state employees, I have had a public records request sitting with DEC since April 20 but have yet to receive the documents.
Schlichting said the chemicals that the Dunleavy administration will no longer check for in drinking water, soil samples, fish and surface water meet the state criteria for “hazardous substances.”
“This allows us to set criteria for these compounds based on available information and to require that responsible parties provide alternative water where criteria are exceeded, but also even when there is insufficient information to set a cleanup level. Based on these state authorities and the weight of scientific evidence, it is negligent on the part of the administration to pull back in setting protective levels for at least six PFAS in the drinking water of Alaskans, and furthermore, to restrict reporting of PFAS sampling to only two compounds — PFOS and PFOA.”
“The best way to protect our citizens of the state of Alaska is not by rolling back standards. Such action goes against our responsibility as environmental and health professionals to ensure the drinking water of Alaskans is safe,” she said.
The state has to use science to make its decisions and protect Alaskans from additional exposure to PFAS. “To do otherwise is negligence,” she wrote.
The Dunleavy administration argument for allowing a higher pollution level is that the EPA under President Donald Trump has yet to set standards and it is fine to wait until that happens. Under pressure from industry, the EPA has been in no hurry to act.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.