Hawaii watching closely as EPA proposes water standards for ‘forever chemicals’

“It’s good that now they’re doing something, but you know, you can’t bring my family members back,” said Favors.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 10:10 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 11:32 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The EPA is proposing the first federal limits on toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water, in a move that could have broad implications for infrastructure in the islands.

Forever chemicals have been in the spotlight in Hawaii since a spill last November at Red Hill of firefighting foam concentrate.

The EPA proposed limiting two common types of PFAS to 4 parts per trillion, which is equivalent to four droplets in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Activists like Mark Favors, of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, said the standards validate concerns they’ve raised for years.

“It’s good that now they’re doing something, but you know, you can’t bring my family members back,” said Favors.

Favors, who is also a military veteran, said at least 16 of his relatives had been diagnosed with cancer and 10 have died, including his father.

His family lived near Air Force and Army installations in Colorado Springs, and he believes they got sick from the military’s contaminated water.

The Department of Defense has said it’s voluntarily taken action after updated EPA guidelines.

“None of our family members that live outside of the contamination area have had have been sick,” said Favors.

“For example, my grandmother moved to the area, and she died within a few years, where her only sister who didn’t move to the area lived to be 99 years old.”

Regulators said PFAS is linked to health issues, including low birth weight and cancer.

The use of PFAS in Hawaii dates to the 1940s. It’s widely used in various products, from household items to firefighting foam.

‘Forever chemicals” don’t necessarily degrade and can contaminate drinking water.

PFAS have been detected at Red Hill. In January, the Board of Water Supply detected trace amounts of chemicals in wells that serve Waipahu, Waikele, and Waipio.

In February, the state Department of Health said low levels of PFAS were detected at the Makakilo Well.

Officials said both results did not pose a health problem, but concerned residents can use water filters.

“Hopefully, we won’t have situations where we start to approach exceeding the proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels but we’ll have to see what our research reveals here, as we’ve continued to test, so people should stay informed,” said BWS Chief Engineer Ernie Lau.

“The water the Board of Water Supply provides is safe to drink.”

Hundreds of military facilities nationwide, including several on Oahu, are investigating PFAS contamination.

The Sierra Club’s Senior Toxics Policy Advisor, Sonya Lunder, said it’s the EPA’s first drinking water standard for new chemicals in about 20 years.

“This agency moves very slowly and doesn’t often add new chemicals to any of their regulations,” said Lunder. “We need to see a lot more action to reduce people’s exposures to other types of PFAS chemicals and through other forms of exposure.”

A 2021 study shows even some bottled waters have PFAS, but it did not identify which brands were tested.

The Board of Water Supply says they will continue to test their wells for 29 different PFAS chemicals.