LIHUE — Kauai doesn’t test drinking water for a class of chemicals being targeted for manufacturing bans by some members of the United States Congress.
But, that’s because there aren’t any drinking water standards for chemicals — polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals that are used to make a variety of things like stain and water-resistant fabrics, carpet, cleaning products and fire-fighting foam.
PFAS are a class of chemical made up of about 5,000 individual chemicals, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
They’re prolific and persistent, sticking around an intact in the environment and bio accumulating in humans and animals. FDA is currently further researching health risks of the chemicals.
A bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives would set a drinking water standard for PFAS and would set aside $100 million, over two years, into a superfund dedicated to grants for cleanup and treatment of saturated areas.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is backing the bill, known as the PFAS Action Act, and said in a recent news release that swift action is imperative for banning new PFAS and addressing what’s already accumulated in humans and the environment.
“Every American in every community across our country deserves clean water,” Gabbard said in the release. “PFAS contamination sites blanket the map, affecting almost every state and PFAS chemicals have been implicated in cancer and other illnesses.”
The Kauai Department of Water conducts testing of drinking water and reports water quality on Kauai under the Hawaii Department of Health.
Staff tests for two types of chemical contaminants: regulated and unregulated. The difference between the two is that regulated contaminants have a set maximum contaminant level.
Kauai DOW also tests for coliform bacteria and heavy metals like lead and copper.
Most recent water quality reports available from DOW consolidate testing results from 2018 and show drinking water to be relatively clean of contaminants.
Results from water systems in Kalaheo and Koloa, as well as Puhi, showed elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, which is an unregulated contaminant and doesn’t have a maximum allowance level. That’s the chemical central to the story in the movie “Erin Brokovich,” a true story about a legal clerk who leads a lawsuit against a company for water contamination.
Tests from 2018 report levels of hexavalent chromium in the water at 2.7 parts per billion in Kalaheo and Koloa water systems and 6.8 parts per billion in Puhi water systems.
The Centers for Disease Control, hexavalent chromium – also known as chromium 6 — is used in industries like welding and steel working and is a known carcinogen.
Environmental Protection Agency says it occurs naturally and can get into drinking water through normal erosion processes and is also produced during industrial processes.
Gabbard has been focusing on eliminating toxic chemicals from the environment and food sources for several years. For example, in 2019, she introduced bills to further the study of chemical impacts to coral reefs.
PFAS chemicals are another on the list of contaminants that could, but aren’t yet proven to, cause lingering effects to humans and the environment.
“The spread of PFAS contamination is moving faster than the EPA’s efforts to regulate, prevent, detect, and treat contaminated water supplies,” Gabbard said in the release. “Failing to act is a failure to the American people and will only cost us immeasurably more to deal with the environmental and health fallout in the future.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org