Is fluorinating polyethylene a health threat?

US EPA and environmental groups claim the process creates toxic PFAS

Kyla Bennett is fed up with the pollution flowing into her house through its water pipes. “I can’t drink my water. I’m not supposed to shower in my water. And we’ve been waiting now two years for this filtration plant to come on line. It’s costing us, the taxpayers, $9 million,” says Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an advocacy group.

Bennett lives in North Easton, Massachusetts, a small town just south of Boston. In 2019, she investigated drinking water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the use of firefighting foam on Fort Devens, a former military base northwest of Boston. She then tested her own water.

“I thought our water would be clean,” she says, noting that the town has no industry or firefighting training facilities. She also tested water from Sudbury, a town west of Boston next to a firefighter training site. “To my surprise, my water was more contaminated than Sudbury’s water,” she says.

Bennett suspected that a pesticide used to control mosquitoes was the source of PFAS in her water. She was right. “We’re at ground zero for triple E—eastern equine encephalitis,” a very rare but fatal mosquito borne disease, Bennett says. “And we get sprayed continuously from planes with this pesticide called Anvil 10+10,” she says.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and PEER identified PFAS in Anvil 10+10. The US Environmental Protection Agency confirmed in early 2021 that PFAS had migrated into the pesticide from the fluorinated high density polyethylene (HDPE) containers it was stored in.

The EPA found some of the most toxic PFAS—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids with chain lengths of eight carbons or more—in the pesticide. These long-chain PFAS are associated with developmental and immunological effects, certain cancers, and liver disease.

by Britt E. Erickson February 5, 2023