Louisville’s ‘Dark Waters’

Louisville’s drinking water is the best tasting tap water in the country. That’s what we’ve been told by the American Water Works Association — twice! Even actress Busy Philipps said so after doing a blind taste test on “Live with Kelly and Michael” in 2015.

Plus, Louisville pure tap®, which comes from the Ohio River, is in compliance with all Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.

Drinking Louisville tap water might be better than other cities’ water, but the truth is nobody can tell us how safe our water is to drink. In fact, it is no secret that there are several contaminants in our water that do cause health problems.

The Environmental Working Group is a national nonprofit committed to protecting human health and the environment. The EWG’s latest water quality report for Louisville detected 16 contaminants in the water. Among the contaminants are PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, which is used to make Teflon and is known as a “forever chemical.”

PFOA is called a “forever chemical” because it cannot be broken down by nature. It never leaves our water, air or bodies. In addition to its use for Teflon, it is an ingredient in food packaging, paints, cleaning products, fire-retardant foams and many other products. It’s everywhere, on everything and in everyone.

PFOAs are also linked to several possible health risks, including pancreatic, kidney and testicular cancers; liver damage; reproductive and developmental harms; and reduced effectiveness of vaccines, according to the EWG and EPA.

The amount of PFOA in Louisville’s tap water is well below the EPA health advisory standards — about 14 times beneath the standard. However, in June, the director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences cited new data that suggests the safety level be 700 times lower than the EPA’s current threshold.

Then, the EWG tested a sample of Louisville residential water from July and reported finding 10 toxic PFOAs with eight of the 10 exceeding the safety levels endorsed by EWG.

In 2004, chemical giant Dupont settled a lawsuit for $343 million for dumping hazardous chemicals without warning residents on the Ohio River in West Virginia, while covering up that they did this, knowing the chemicals caused health problems to humans and animals. This lawsuit is the focus of the movie “Dark Waters,” which is currently in theaters.

So, is it time to hit the panic button, maybe start searching for new ways of finding drinking water that won’t lead to cancer? Or, hope to win millions of dollars in a lawsuit in 20 years?

The scary part is that we know the water is polluted with toxic chemicals, but we just don’t know how much of it will kill us: If it’s not time to panic, it’s certainly time to act.

While PFOA chemicals are no longer manufactured in the U.S., two problems persist:

One, PFOAs still make their way to the U.S. through imported goods.

And, two, some companies just make new, toxic forever chemicals called PFAS. One PFAS is called GenX. GenX is already “found in surface water, groundwater, finished drinking water, rainwater and air emissions in some areas,” according to the EPA. As for the health effects, the EPA says: “Animal studies have shown health effects in the kidney, blood, immune system, developing fetus and especially in the liver following oral exposure. The data are suggestive of cancer.”

PFAS are currently unregulated in Kentucky. However, Kentucky scientists have found PFAS in 41 of 81 water treatment plants tested around Kentucky. Tony Hatton, commissioner of the state Department for Environmental Protection said the agency is aware of about a half-dozen manufacturers using PFAS, WFPL reported.

Of course, the person standing between us and a safer, healthier future is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the self-acclaimed “Grim Reaper.” McConnell is negotiating the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Final sticking points include “forever chemical”-related provisions, including ones that would classify PFAS as hazardous under the federal Superfund law and as a toxic pollutant under the Clean Water Act. That would accelerate the federal cleanup effort of these toxins.

While McConnell must pass a funding authorization, his relentless push for deregulation of industries makes me skeptical of his commitment to clean air and water.

Plus, seeing as McConnell is a toxic “forever chemical,” himself, Kentucky shouldn’t wait on him to protect its waters. Gov.-elect Andy Beshear and his new cabinet, along with the state legislature should act to protect our water.

The debate can’t be over how much is too much. If a toxic chemical lasts forever, eventually it will be too much… and too late.