Letter on PFAS Chemicals to Pennsylvania Officials October 23, 2023
Hon. Josh Shapiro
Governor of Pennsylvania
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Hon. Joe Pittman
Majority Leader, Pennsylvania Senate
Senate Box 203041
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3041
Hon. Joanna E. McClinton
Speaker, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
139 Main Capitol Building
P.O. Box 202191
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2191
October 24, 2023
Dear Governor Shapiro, Majority Leader Pittman, and Speaker McClinton:
We, the undersigned Pennsylvania-based organizations, write to urge you to adopt policies that prohibit the use of toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS, and fully disclose the use of chemicals in the extraction of oil and gas including during hydraulic fracturing, drilling, and other stages or methods of extraction.
We have included with this letter a copy of a report released today by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) that details the use of PFAS in Pennsylvania’s unconventional gas wells and the staggering use of trade secret chemicals in these wells that could be PFAS or other toxic substances. These chemical identities are known to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection but withheld from the public.
PFAS are a class of thousands of chemicals known for their toxicity at extraordinarily low levels, their multiple negative health effects including cancer, and their persistence in the environment, leading to their nickname, “forever chemicals.” This year, Pennsylvania set drinking water standards for two types of PFAS: PFOA and PFOS. In recognition of their extraordinary toxicity, the state set the maximum contaminant level of PFOA at just 14 parts per trillion and the maximum contaminant level of PFOS at 18 parts per trillion. Some experts believe that these levels should be set even lower. The U.S. EPA has proposed drinking water limits of just four parts per trillion for both chemicals. The EPA levels mean that a measuring cup of PFOA would be enough to contaminate 28 billion gallons of water, more than 90 times the 300 million gallons of drinking water treated each day by Philadelphia.
Using this class of chemicals in oil and gas wells may be particularly risky to our health and environment because PFAS could not only cause contamination near well sites through multiple pathways but could also pollute places miles away where solid waste and vast volumes of toxic wastewater from oil and gas wells are disposed of.
PSR’s report, based on oil and gas industry disclosures, shows that oil and gas companies injected eight unconventional gas wells with PFAS (PTFE or Teflon) in three Western Pennsylvania counties between 2012 and 2022. Yet more than 5,000 unconventional gas wells were injected with a staggering 160 million pounds of undisclosed trade secret chemicals, which potentially include PFAS. This level of undisclosed chemical use and other gaps in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas chemical disclosure rules raise concerns that Pennsylvanians could be unknowingly exposed to PFAS and other toxic substances used in oil and gas wells.
We urge Pennsylvania to adopt policies that prohibit the use of PFAS in oil and gas operations and fully disclose the chemicals used in oil and gas wells. As you know, Governor Shapiro, a criminal grand jury that you convened as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General recommended in 2020 that oil and gas companies fully disclose their chemicals so that the public can know the chemicals’ individual identities. The grand jury suggested that the chemical formulas can still be protected as trade secrets. As one witness told the grand jury about this approach, “it is like the back of the Kentucky Fried Chicken box . . . . Ingredients do not make a recipe.” Colorado, a major producer of oil and gas, enacted a law last year taking these steps. California, a major oil-producing state, has enacted a law requiring full disclosure of chemicals used for well stimulation such as hydraulic fracturing.
We believe that Pennsylvania can – and must – take these common-sense steps to protect the public from PFAS and other toxic chemicals used in oil and gas wells.
Better Path Coalition
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Environmental Health Project
Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania
Protect PT (Penn-Trafford)
John F. Stolz, Ph.D., Professor, Biological Sciences, Duquesne University