A report issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concludes that so-called “safe” levels of chemicals found to be contaminating the water supplies around domestic military bases are one-tenth of the amount allowed by EPA guidelines. Concerns over the report’s conclusions were only amplified when it was revealed that; citing fears of a “PR nightmare,” the Trump White House and EPA took active measures to prevent the report from being made public.
Held in draft status for significantly longer than necessary, the now-public report finds that the risk levels of PFAS, or per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, is approximately “seven- to tenfold” higher than what the EPA was using in its study. And, while public officials appear to applaud the release of the delayed document, they are also bracing for what will likely be an increase in concern from the communities they were elected to serve.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that a Pennsylvania Department of Health study conducted two years ago found elevated cancer rates in the townships of Warminster, Warrington, and Horsham. While the study failed to produce conclusive patterns, the overall findings combined with the communities’ proximities to military bases is very much noteworthy.
Criticism of the delays to the report’s publication came from both sides of the aisle. Democratic Senator Bob Casey chided the administration in a statement. “Informing the American people about the latest scientific assessments impacting their health shouldn’t be political,” he said, “and shouldn’t require members of Congress to pressure the administration to be transparent.”
Republican State Representative Todd Stephens, himself a resident of Horsham, was “angry and frustrated” after reading the report. “Since these chemicals were first identified in our water,” he said, “the federal government has failed to fulfill its obligations to our community and we are paying the price in higher water bills and, potentially, adverse health consequences.” Horsham’s water supply was changed to a different provider when levels of PFAS were found to be so high that the government started providing free bottled water to the township’s residents.
There’s an old adage that says in some cases it’s not so much about the crime, but the cover-up. In this case, it’s likely to be both. The government has the “PR nightmare” it feared – as should be the case when the public can’t trust the water that comes out of its faucets or the government elected to act in the best interest of their safety and that of their families.