Comerford, McGovern convene panel on forever chemicals on Wednesday

  • U.S. Rep Jim McGovern, D-Worcester. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • COMERFORD

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2021 8:46:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Two wells in Shutesbury recently tested high for PFAS, forever chemicals that have been linked to cancer and may pose risks for pregnant and nursing mothers, along with and people with compromised immune systems.

At Swift River School in New Salem, parents and guardians were notified in late winter that a high level of PFAS was found in the well providing potable water to the building, though no state drinking water regulations were violated.

The dangers of contamination to drinking water and to soil from these chemicals — per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances — are prompting U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern and state Sen. Jo Comerford to push efforts at the federal and state level that would minimize use of these chemicals in products such as firefighting gear, cosmetics, cookware and upholstered furniture.

PFAS are a group of more than 9,000 toxic chemicals that are used to make products waterproof, stick-proof and stain-proof. Exposure can lead to health impacts such as cancer, immunosuppression, low fertility and development issues in children and infants.

On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. via Facebook Live, the two lawmakers are sponsoring a constituent briefing on PFAS titled “Turn Off the Tap: It’s Time to Ban PFAS in Massachusetts.”

The presentation will feature David Reckhow, a research professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Massachusetts, whose team was awarded a $1.07 million grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to facilitate sampling of public water supplies for PFAS contamination, and to test selected private water wells in 84 of the 351 state’s communities.

Reckhow is a member of the state’s PFAS Interagency Task Force, established by the Legislature to investigate ground contamination and water contamination by the substances throughout the state, with a report to be complete with policy recommendations by Dec. 31.

Others who will be part of the panel are Maureo Fernandez y Mora, drinking water advocate at Clean Water Action; Himaja Nagireddy, a master’s degree candidate in environmental health epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Deirdre Cummings, legislative director of MassPIRG.

PFAS accumulate in the food chain and persist in the environment indefinitely, and 98% of Americans have some measurable level of the substances in their blood.

Comerford introduced what is called “an act restricting toxic PFAS chemicals in consumer products to protect our health.” She is the Senate chair of the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health, and her legislation would ban the sale of common sources of PFAS if they contain the chemicals, whether it be child car seats or carpets.

McGovern, a member of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, introduced the “Protecting Firefighters from PFAS Act,” which would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create safer PFAS standards and strengthen oversight of the gear firefighters use.

To view the event live, go to facebook.com/senatorjocomerford/posts/1838170903021386.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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