EPA’s Pruitt promises safe water oversight

WASHINGTON (AP) — Soaring numbers of water systems around the country are testing positive for a dangerous class of chemicals widely used in items that include non-stick pans and firefighting foam, regulators and scientists said Tuesday.

The warnings, and promises by Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt of official action to confront the related health risks, came in a summit with small-town and state officials increasingly confronting water systems contaminated by the toxic substances.

Pruitt convened the conference as part of his pledge to step up EPA action on the family of contaminants. “It’s clear this issue is a national priority,” Pruitt said. The summit drew chemical industry representatives, tribal officials and others.

Emails made public under the Freedom of Information Act earlier this month and first reported by Politico heightened national attention of the chemicals. The emails included an unidentified White House official calling a still-pending federal study on the chemicals a “public-relations nightmare” and EPA officials intervening in the publication of the report.

The threat comes from thousands of chemicals in a family known as perfluoroakyls and polyfluoroakyls, or PFOA and PFAS, often used to make cloth, fast-food boxes and other surfaces slippery or resistant to grease or water. Scientists believe the chemicals can cause developmental defects and other health problems.

Patrick Breysse, head of the federal toxic substances agency involved in the still-unpublished federal study on the chemicals, said his office was called to its first case of public water system contamination from the chemicals only a decade ago.