Dispatches from Maryland’s War Against PFAS

May 1st, 2021 - by Pat Elder / Military Poisons

Gains by Pro-PFAS Forces Seen in Battles over the State House, Fish, Mosquitoes, and the News

By War Correspondent Pat Elder / Military Poisons Online here.

Battle #1 — On the Defeat of HB 22

(April 24, 2021) — The fighting raged earlier this year in the ancient halls of Maryland’s General Assembly in Annapolis, a town where the Navy has contaminated groundwater used for drinking water at levels of 70,000 parts per trillion (ppt) with PFOS and PFOA, two of the deadliest varieties of per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances, (PFAS). Embedded correspondents with mainstream papers neglected to tell the story. The courageous Arundel Patriot published a story on the city’s poisoned water.

Battle lines were drawn when the measure to regulate PFAS was introduced on January 13, 2021 in the ornate state house that served as the nation’s capital in 1783 and 1784. Environmental activists stormed the building but were met and eventually repulsed by a single brigade of business battalions mustered by the corporate command.

The bill would have prohibited the use, manufacture or sale of Class B fire-fighting foam containing PFAS, although it wouldn’t have applied to the military. It would have also banned manufacturing, selling, or distributing a host of consumer products containing the toxins, including rugs and food packaging containing PFAS. 

The environmental guerillas employed tactics involving petitions and letters to the editor, but were outgunned when a hostile amendment was fired across the bow just a few weeks later, causing an immediate retreat of the eco forces. The amendment redefined the term “PFAS chemicals” to exclude “high molecular weight inert fluoropolymers, including polytetrafluoroethylene, fluorinated ethylene propylene, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, and perfluoroalkoxy alkanes.”

Poly tetra fluoro ethylene is commonly known as PTFE, better known as Teflon, a product manufactured by Chemours, a spin-off from DuPont. Dupont developed the chemical in 1938, an event that is likened to opening Pandora’s box and the doomed flight of Icarus

PTFE is used in all kinds of things, from Teflon tape to plumbing gaskets to wire coating. Most of it eventually winds up in our landfills, where it is sent to wastewater treatment plants to be dumped, untreated into the waterways, to poison fish and to poison us. See a partial list of PTFE manufacturers and suppliers here. Eco insurgents should hold their fire on these manufacturers. They employ thousands, and although their use of products containing PFAS, must be immediately stopped, we should instead direct our fire on regulators and legislators.

The strength of several business battalions, each with three companies, were trained for legislative battle. Their presence in the Old Senate Chamber where Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, overwhelmed the hapless environmental irregulars. 

Battle #2 — On Enlisting Maryland’s Department of Health to Protect Marylanders from PFAS in Seafood

My neighbors, caught in the cross-fire, have sent urgent dispatches to the county’s director of environmental health asking if it’s OK to eat the fish from our creek just 1,800 feet from PFAS releases in groundwater at the Webster Field Outlying Field of the Patuxent River NAS. The Navy recently reported that 84,000 ppt of PFOS and PFOA are present in groundwater and are draining into the creek directly across from us.

Testing in our foam-covered cove (photo above) showed 1,550 ppt of PFOS alone. Here’s a response from the health officer. Heather Moritz -MDH- <heather.moritz@maryland.gov> wrote:

Good Afternoon Mr. ——-
“Thank you for reaching out to me and please know that the Navy has been working closely with my office, MD Department of the Environment, and the EPA throughout the entire investigation process. I have expressed my concerns as well as the community’s concerns related to local seafood consumption but in the absence of established thresholds for PFAS levels, it is difficult to say if consumption of seafood at this time comes with an increased risk. 
I am certain that the continued partnership between our agency, the Navy, MDE and the EPA will lead to being able to provide the scientific data that is needed to answer these tough questions.
I recommend for anyone who wants to learn more and/or has questions about PFAS in our community to join in on the RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) meeting that is being held on April 28th. As a lifelong resident of St. Mary’s, I appreciate your concerns as well as the work that is being done by all agencies.”

Environmental espionage agents report that RAB’s are designed to misinform the public and stifle community resistance to the Navy’s ongoing contamination. It is outrageous that Maryland’s health department suggests people “learn more” through RAB’s. RAB’s are military psy-ops programs, orchestrated to propagandize the public and stifle eco resistance. 

The health officer claims there are no established thresholds for PFAS levels. She might have said, “Don’t worry be happy. It’s OK if you eat fish caught in the bay close to the burn pit of the Pax River NAS or from Chesapeake Beach where groundwater at the Naval Lab contains 241,000 ppt and drains into the Chesapeake. Even if a fish has almost 800,000 ppt of PFOS in its filet, it’s OK, you can eat it.”

She could have explained that the EPA has developed the following values for the consumption of PFOS in fish:
No Restrictions:     up to 40 ug/kg         40,000 ppt
1 meal/week:      41 ug/kg to 200 ug/kg  41,000 to 200,000 ppt.
1 meal/month:     210 ug/kg to 800 ug/kg 210,000 to 800,000 ppt.
Do Not Eat:       over 800 ug/kg         over 800,000 ppt
As the battle rages nationally, the EPA command has shirked in its mission to defend against threats to national health security. The EPA is not in it to protect human health. Instead, the agency is protecting the bottom line of its benefactors. Consider the influence of the chemical industry in Congress and imagine the fallout if the business brigade loses this battle in the war. How large is the seafood industry? 

Battle #3 — On Trying to Stop the Weekly Application of Mosquito Spray Containing 4,000 ppt of PFAS 

Skirmishes have broken out on an historic peninsula in Maryland’s colonial capital. A PFAS battle is raging on the small Rosecroft peninsula that is also under attack from the Navy at Webster Field. The beautiful area is nestled between St. Inigoes Creek, Lucas Cove and the St. Mary’s River. Maryland’s first settlement started here. 17th century artifacts and 5,000-year-old Indian artifacts may be found on the beaches, sometimes mixed with PFAS foam.

For years, many of the 60 homes in this idyllic location have participated in the state’s weekly mosquito spraying program. The practice, however, has recently come under close scrutiny.

The active ingredient in the Bayer Corporation’s insect spray used here is PERAMONE 30-30, a compound that contains 4,000 parts per trillion of PFAS.

The PFAS help kill mosquitoes and humans. Neighborhood mosquito spray volunteers have verified that they have been using the chemicals in the sprays for years. Some Marylanders have expressed alarm

Most in this community feel mosquito spraying is worth the risk, however, and several have questioned whether there is any threat to health. “Every day we hear of these sorts of things. What are we supposed to do?” Asks one neighbor. 

The neighborhood mosquito volunteers shared community concerns regarding PFAS in Permamone 30-30 with the Maryland Department of Agriculture — St. Mary’s County Mosquito Control Program and the officials said they plan to use the same spray this year. 

Battle #4 On Capturing the Public’s Attention

Environmental guerilla insurgencies (EGI’s) derive strength from popular support, a key revolutionary element lacking in the peoples’ struggle against PFAS. Thomas Paine developed modern political journalism, stirring the pot of righteous indignation, because he was able to reach a mass audience, something EGI’s are largely unable to do in today’s world of pay-for-print corporate-dominated media.

For instance, on the day the Washington Post passed on covering the top environmental news story in the region in many years that involved revelations of massive PFAS contamination of the lower Potomac, they instead ran a safe story on PFAS contamination of Mount Everest. They’re not going to cover a story detailing contamination caused by the military in their own back yard. The Baltimore Sun is somewhat better, but neither paper puts much emphasis on environmental reporting these days. It just doesn’t help the bottom line. 

Insurgencies, like politics, are local in nature, and that’s where the story isn’t being told — and if it is, it’s often full of misstatements. Local papers are obsessed with staying financially alive and too often, their concept of “journalism” is publishing press releases from civic, military, and corporate sources. They keep tabs on us and track our clicks to serve up a steady diet of tailored ads. 

I sent the Navy’s press release regarding their upcoming Restoration Advisory Board Meeting to 40 separate press outlets, along with a brief description of the 84,000 parts per trillion of PFAS found in groundwater emptying into St. Inigoes Creek and I got nothin.

I attempted to explain to the embedded editors that the findings of PFAS in the groundwater are about 1,200 times over the EPA’s non-mandatory “guidelines” but that apparently didn’t raise eyebrows. I told them about the contaminated crabs, oysters, and rockfish, but they apparently don’t care enough to report on it or they’re concerned about the potential effect on their bottom line. Perhaps they feel it is unpatriotic to report such things. 

Local papers are among the worst for dereliction of journalistic duties. The public must read between the lines to pick it up, but that requires a degree of knowledge, so it’s kind of a Catch-22. I’ll provide some examples from the March 8, 2020 edition of the St. Mary’s Enterprise, a military-friendly publication that reports “news stories” on behalf the Pax River Navy base. The widely-read paper’s quotes are in italics. My brief responses follow. 

“Crowds swarmed naval and health officials at the Navy’s PFAS open house at the Lexington Park library on Tuesday evening, (March, 2020) hoping to learn about the Navy’s use of the potentially dangerous chemical compound.”

Not potentially dangerous. PFAS is dangerous, period. Many weren’t expecting to learn much from the Navy. They came with a host of questions and demands that were largely ignored.

“Mark Mank, a toxicologist at the Maryland Department of the Environment, said at the meeting the negative effects are seen in “chronic, long-term exposures” to PFAS chemicals.” 

So, it’s OK to eat a fish with a million parts per trillion of the stuff?

“These are not human effects that we know today,” he said of the chemicals’ effects on the immune system, as PFAS has only recently been investigated as a health hazard.” 

The military has known PFAS is a health hazard for nearly 50 years.

“The Navy has historically used PFAS-containing foam to extinguish some fuel fires at its installments, including Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Webster Outlying Field in St. Inigoes.” 

There have only been a small number of actual emergencies involving the use of these toxic foams. The Navy recklessly practiced with the stuff at multiple locations on the bases, often several times a month. 

“The reason we use it is because AFFF saves lives,” (DOD spokesperson) David Steckler said, noting that there is no better compound to put out a fuel fire.” 

Aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) containing PFAS is a world-wide human health disaster while capable fluorine free foams are available, and much of the world has switched to using them.  

“Steckler is working on Pax River’s initiative to identify and clean up AFFF release sites on base, currently in its early stages of identifying known and suspected release areas.”

Pure garbage. Retired Naval officers will say discreetly that the Navy has a record — of everything — and always has. Specifically, how does the Navy propose to “clean up” the mess they’ve made since the early 1970’s? Imagine the condition of surface water, soils, groundwater, and sediments in and around the base. If they actually attempt to clean it up, how do they intend to dispose the PFAS? We know PFAS materials have been sent from Pax River to be incinerated in a predominately minority community in Cohoes NY. Is that the plan?

“Community activist Pat Elder recently became interested in PFAS research.”

Yup. I googled PFAS the week before the newspaper article was published. How did they know? Remember Sophocles in Antigone? “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.”  The battles in Maryland over the state house, the fish, the mosquitoes, and the news have been lost, but the PFAS war rages on — here — and in communities across the country. Academics, NGO’s, eco insurgents, and growing numbers of members of Congress are coming together to trade notes and plan strategies. Damn the chemical lobby. Is their money that good? Human health is in the balance