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- What's New with PFAS - Summer 2020
Participants of the Second National PFAS Conference at Northeastern University (June 2019)
About SSEHRI's PFAS lab group:
The mission of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute is to conduct social science-oriented research, teaching, community engagement, and policy work in the area of environmental health.  

SSEHRI's NSF-funded research investigates the discovery and re-discovery of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (or PFASs), a class of carbon-fluorine-based chemicals widely used in industrial production and found in numerous consumer products.  Exposure to certain PFASs has been linked to various human health effects, including immunodeficiencies, thyroid disorders, elevated cholesterol, birth defects, and some cancers. This project seeks to understand the confluence of actors and conditions necessary for the periodic discoveries of the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals.  Additionally, this project will focus on how selected contamination episodes have impacted the awareness, regulation and research related to this class of chemicals.

Read  more  about the PFAS  project  on our website.

This newsletter will provide a periodic overview of the latest developments in PFAS science, regulation, events, and activism. It features contributions (in no particular order) from various PFAS-related research groups, advocacy organizations, and  community activist groups; along with highlights in PFAS news media. Many thanks to our collaborators for their great work!

Queries and suggestions can be directed to our email:
Join the mailing list for this newsletter here.

URI STEEP Superfund Research Center:
by Heidi Pickard and Alicia Crisalli, STEEP Trainees

PFAS In Our World: What We Know and What We Can Do

  • Virtual Conference | October 13-14, 2020
  • Presented by the trainees of the STEEP Superfund Research Center
The conference will focus on three major themes: 1) environmental policy—benefits
and challenges of regulating PFAS; 2) environmental and human health risk assessment; and 3) environmental justice. A particular emphasis of the conference will be how the next generation of scientists can rise
to meet the PFAS crisis. The conference is presented by the STEEP superfund trainees on October 13-14 and will be followed by Green Science Policy Interactive workshops on October 15-16th. Please visit for registration details.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families & Toxic-Free Future – Mind the Store Campaign:
by Jennifer Dickman, Senior Program Associate

In a new report released on Thursday, August 6, the Mind the Store campaign and Toxic-Free Future found that nearly half of all take-out food packaging tested from multiple popular food chains had levels of fluorine suggesting PFAS treatment.

Packaged in Pollution: Are food chains using PFAS in packaging? analyzed packaging from six national food chains, including top fast-food chains Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s as well as top health-minded food chains Cava, Freshii, and Sweetgreen. Testing found that items in two packaging categories— paper bags used for greasy foods along with molded fiber bowls and trays—most frequently tested above the fluorine screening level, suggesting toxic PFAS treatment. Paper bags sampled included a French fry bag from McDonald’s, a chicken nuggets bag from Burger King, and cookie bags from all three burger chains.

On the other hand, a packaging material category found to be free of PFAS were paperboard containers, specifically, the cartons and clamshells used for fried foods and desserts at burger chains. All of these sampled paperboard items tested below the fluorine screening level, suggesting that they are PFAS-free.

In response to the study, Cava announced it will eliminate PFAS from its food packaging by mid-2021. Freshii committed to eliminate PFAS in two of its bowls by early 2021. Sweetgreen also recently announced that it is phasing out PFAS from its bowls by the end of 2020 and has already introduced PFAS-free bowls in one market.

The organizations commissioned an independent laboratory to measure total fluorine in 38 food packaging samples, including 29 unique samples. They were collected at food chains in and around New York City, Seattle, WA, and Washington, DC in January 2020 and were analyzed in February 2020. To learn more, go here 

Help us call on McDonald’s to urge them to eliminate PFAS in their food packaging. Sign the petition here! 

The Mind the Store campaign and Toxic-Free Future have also developed new guides for grocery and quick-service restaurant chains to help ensure all PFAS are removed from food packaging. It can be hard to tell which packaging contains PFAS and which is free of the chemicals, and our new guides will help chains find a clear path to adopt and implement policies to go PFAS-free. Click here to read the guidance for grocery chains and quick-service restaurants.

by Kayla Williams, Communications Coordinator

As global concerns grow around the use of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — known as the ‘forever chemicals’ because they can persist for thousands of years in the environment — Clean Production Action released GreenScreen Certified™ Firefighting Foam, the first ecolabel for PFAS-free firefighting foam products.

The Standard has three levels of certification and uses a combination of GreenScreen scores, Restricted Substance List prohibitions, and analytical testing for acute aquatic toxicity and total organic fluorine. GreenScreen Certified now provides buyers and manufacturers with a clear framework for communicating demand for and supply of Class B firefighting products that are both tested to be PFAS-free and screened to avoid chemicals of high concern to people and the planet.

Download the standard, view the factsheet and other resources at
by Shaina Kasper, Vermont and New Hampshire
State Director, Water Program Director

New Hampshire:  Last Thursday, Governor Sununu signed a PFAS omnibus bill that will reinstate new PFAS drinking water standards, ending a many year process for NH PFAS MCLs coming from state legislation, having them be instituted by the Department of Environmental Services, and stalled by a 3M lawsuit before they took effect. This bill aimed to get around that lawsuit and empowers the DES to implement strong PFAS standards: 12ppt PFOA 15ppt PFOS, 18ppt PFHxS, and 11ppt PFNA. It also creates a loan fund to cover compliance costs for utilities and municipalities, require insurance to cover PFAS blood tests, extend the state’s cancer cluster commission through 2022, and more. Congratulations New Hampshire activists!

Michigan:  Last Friday, Michigan also took action for strong enforceable drinking water standards through the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy regulatory action being passed by the Michigan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. This happened right after the community group and Leadership team member Need Our Water (NOW) held a rally to Clean Our Water in Oscoda. Over the past month, the michigan governor also signed a bill codifying the existing foam take-back program, and banning the use of foam in training. Congratulations Michigan activists!

New York:  Yesterday, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation adopted standards for PFOA and PFOS at 10ppt (as well as 1ppb for 1,4-Dioxane) through regulatory action. Like the other states, establishing a MCL for PFAS chemicals will require all public water systems to test for these chemicals and take action when elevated levels of contamination are discovered. New York also passed three bills through the New York Senate and Assembly this week, and are awaiting signatures form the governor: banning TCE, and banning PFAS from food packaging. A bill is also currently sitting on the governor’s desk to ban PFAS burning in New York, following finding out about the Norlite facility burning PFAS. Congratulations New York activists!

Colorado:  The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, under a policy approved by the state’s Water Quality Control Commission, will monitor and limit PFAS discharges in water pollution permits and will also conduct source investigations and water sampling to identify areas of contamination. CO is working with EPA’s action level as they don’t have their own MCL, but it is a strong start! Congratulations on that, Colorado activists!

Pennsylvania:  There is a lawsuit by a homeowner who lives 700 feet from the WG base against the government for property damage due to PFAS pollution. We will present testimony that the government dumped thousands of gallons of AFFF at WG every day for years throughout the 1970’s; knew since 1974, if not earlier, that AFFF was an environmental hazard which should NOT be discharged into the environment untreated, and that it was inevitable the AFFF would migrate off site and contaminate nearby homes. If folks want to support this campaign, you can attend the trial by sending your name, address, email, and affirmation that you understand that you may not record the proceedings in any fashion, and that you will not forward the link to anyone without the Court’s authorization to and

           Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger:
Laura Olah, Executive Director
Read about CSWAB's recent work around open air burning of hazardous waste near Salt Lake City, Utah, here:

Local Response to PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin:
by Thomas W. Pearson, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Over the past few years, the City of Marinette and the adjacent Town of Peshtigo in northeast Wisconsin has emerged as an epicenter in the state’s response to PFAS contamination. Located on Lake Michigan, Marinette is home to roughly 10,000 people and hosts shipbuilding, paper, and chemical industries, among others. In late 2017, Tyco Fire Products, now part of Johnson Control’s International (JCI), reported groundwater contamination from PFAS chemicals released during testing of firefighting foams at a facility near the border of Marinette and Peshtigo. The local and state response was initially subdued, with town officials reluctant to challenge a company with deep roots in the community and the state Department of Natural Resources gutted by a decade of budget cuts and environmental deregulation. Residents organized, eventually calling themselves S.O.H2O (“Save Our H2O”), and in 2019 they found a DNR emboldened by the election of Democratic governor Tony Evers, who declared PFAS among one of several threats to drinking water across the state.
Since 2019, the Department of Health Services has issued recommendations for PFOA/PFOS exposure limits in drinking water (at 20ppt) and the state has initiated efforts to study and regulate PFAS and the use of firefighting foams. The DNR has as referred JCI/Tyco to the state Department of Justice for failing to report the release of hazardous chemicals, which the company knew about since at least 2013, and has overseen an expanded
investigation of PFAS contamination in Marinette and Peshtigo, which now encompasses surface and groundwater, wastewater and biosolids land spreading, fish and deer tissue sampling, and air emissions. The DNR is also overseeing efforts to test municipal water systems across the state and identify other contaminated communities near manufacturing plants, military bases, airports, and waste disposal sites.

In places like Marinette, concerns about the health impacts of pollution have drawn increased attention and become a basis for local organizing as residents face off against a multinational corporation. I recently published an essay about the situation in Marinette for SAPIENS, a magazine that brings anthropological research and perspectives to public audiences. Titled “Communities Grapple With Exposure to ‘Forever Chemicals’,” the essay is based on ongoing ethnographic research that seeks to document the experiences of residents in contaminated communities and understand the social, economic, and political factors shaping how they respond. My research there is part of a larger multi-sited project that includes communities in Minnesota, Michigan, and West Virginia, funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and being carried out in collaboration with Dr. Dan Renfrew, an anthropologist at West Virginia University. One goal of our project is to elevate issues of health equity and environmental justice in the growing policy discussion around PFAS contamination.


How State Reopening is Affecting PFAS Testing (Urban Milwaukee)

‘Mayor of House Street’ wins national EPA award (Wood TV)

Op-ed: PFAS chemicals—the other immune system threat (Environmental Health News)

FDA Announces Voluntary Phase Out of PFAS Used in Food Packaging (Food Poisoning Bulletin)

Newer PFAS compound detected for first time in Arctic seawater (American Chemical Society)

3M has spent $100M on PFAS cleanup in Alabama; it agreed Friday to pay much more (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Study: Novel PFAS Comprise 24% of Those Measured in Blood of Wilmington, N.C. Residents (NC State News)

Colorado Water Officials Create First-Ever Regulations For ‘Forever Chemical’ PFAS (CPR News)

Baker-Polito administration announces water quality grant program (Sentinel & Enterprise)

NJ Finally Getting PFOA and PFOS Out of Drinking Water (NRDC)

New PFAS Chemical Contamination Discovered In New Jersey (The Intercept)

State Legislature passes legislation prohibiting incineration of AFFF with PFAS (The Record)
Scientists Pin Blame For Some Coronavirus Deaths On Air Pollution, PFAS, And Other Chemicals (The Intercept)

Report: Big Mac cartons, Whopper wrappers, and other fast food packaging found to contain PFAS “forever chemicals” (The Counter)

PFAS should be managed as a single class of chemicals, experts say (Environmental Factor)

How Trump’s Consumer Safety Nominee Weakened Regulation of ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Consumer Products (EWG)

Boron nitride destroys PFAS 'forever' chemicals PFOA, GenX (EurekAlert!)

Study: Disposal of PFAS Waste Increases Contamination (EWG)

EPA adds new PFAS treatment options, scientific references to Drinking Water Treatability Database (EPA Press Office)

New Michigan PFAS rules set to take effect Aug. 3, among nation's strictest (The Detroit News)

State investigating ‘very startling’ levels of PFAS chemicals on central Maine dairy farm (Portland Press Herald)

Maine Looks To Be First In Nation With PFAS Statute of Limitations (National Law Review)

States Begin To Regulate PFAS In Water Discharges (JD Surpa)


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Northeastern University Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute · 1165 Tremont Street · Boston, Ma 02115 · USA

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