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Guam’s Drinking Water Potentially Under Threat from PFAS Contamination

June 16, 2022 (Guam) — Former Guam Speaker and Democratic candidate for Guam’s open Congressional seat, Judi Won Pat, said today that the EPA’s new safe levels for Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) requires immediate action to ensure safe drinking water for the People of Guam.


Today’s reduction of PFAS safe levels is a cause of alarm in Guam. The amended safe level released by the EPA today is 1 million percent above the old standard (https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-06/prepublication-four-pfas-june-2022.pdf). Based on the old EPA standard of 70 parts per trillion, several water wells on military bases have already been closed and PFAS may have moved “outside the fence,” affecting GWA wells. With the new EPA standards, we should anticipate the possibility that many more of our water wells in Guam will test above the safe level for PFAS.


The density of military bases in Guam, which bookend the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer (from Naval Base Guam, the Naval Hospital, the former NAS Agana to NCTAMs and Andersen AAFB), is itself an issue of concern because of military use of fire suppressants, which contain PFAS. Our sole aquifer provides over 80% of our island’s drinking water. Considering these activities, when combined with population density and climatic affects in Guam (which are PFAS spread-accelerants), Guam should be prepared in the event that our public water system is significantly contaminated. This is an issue that is directly related to federal actions in Guam and requires a federal response.
Guam’s drinking water is potentially more affected by PFAS than any other jurisdiction. This disproportionate federal contamination requires an extraordinary federal response to address safe drinking water in Guam and testing for our people who have been exposed to PFAS in our water. I will make it a priority in Congress to assure that a federal response is directed to Guam. Relief should not be capped by competitive grants and population-based funding allocations. As previously announced, a Secure Environment along with Secure Families and a Secure Economy is the core of my focus on Congress.


Safety for our people. We need to know, immediately, the levels of PFAS that have been recorded in Guam’s groundwater and water wells over the past several years that tested below and above the new EPA standard. Immediate action should be taken to remediate or close wells that have tested above the new EPA safe levels. This should be the benchmark for prompt federal remediation. Without this information, we cannot identify the gravity of the problem.


Exposure to PFAS. If PFAS levels have been above the new EPA safe standard, the U.S. government needs to establish appropriate health monitoring and universal treatment for our people. The negative health effects of PFAS in drinking water, and even on skin contact, are known. The federal government owes affected families not just secure sources of safe water in the future, but also treatment for past exposure to PFAS and contamination of our island’s drinking water.


Environmental Security Should be a National Priority. Given our island’s potential exposure to unsafe levels of PFAS from multiple bases over the past 50 years, addressing contamination in Guam should not be subjected to a competitive grant process that is provided for through Build Back Better funds. Neither can Guam wait for litigation against manufacturers that is being diligently pursued by the Attorney General of Guam. The U.S. government needs to address PFAS in Guam as a national priority. The Guam Waterworks Authority and the Guam Environmental Protection Agency need to be adequately equipped with the proper resources for water quality monitoring, remediation, and compliance with the new EPA PFAS safe levels.


Facts:
• PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s, such as fire extinguishing foam used at military bases, airports, and firefighting training facilities, chrome plating, and food packaging. People can be exposed to PFAS by drinking water contaminated with PFAS and working in occupations such as firefighting. (https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas)


• The EPA’s PFAS safe levels of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) (or roughly one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools) today has been reduced to “near-zero” or 0.002 ppt for PFOS. (https://www.eenews.net/articles/epa-sets-targets-for-slashing-pfas-in-drinking-water/ https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-new-drinking-water-health-advisories-pfas-chemicals-1-billion-bipartisan)


• There is toxicological evidence that exposure to PFAS has adverse reproductive, developmental, and immunological affects in animals and humans. (https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas)


• Several wells on military bases and civilian Guam water wells have been contaminated with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a member of the PFAS group, and have since been closed with levels above the old standard of 70 ppt. (https://guamhydrologicsurvey.uog.edu/index.php/perfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas/)


• PFAS is highly associated with military bases across the U.S. given the levels of U.S. by the use of PFAS-infused materials on bases (e.g., firefighting foam) (https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/updated-map-suspected-and-confirmed-pfas-pollution-us-military-bases)


• PFAS is known to spread more quickly in high-density population areas and in humid climates. (https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019WR026667)


• Testing for PFAS over the past several years of results that measured below the 70 ppt are not publicly available.


• The Office of the Attorney General is engaged in litigation against the manufacturers of PFAS substances. (http://oagguam.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PFAS-Fact-Sheet-1.pdf)

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