Jan 19


Enck: Test for “forever chemicals”

A former top EPA official is calling for the monitoring of members of Buffalo’s Burmese community because of their consumption of fish contaminated with so-called “forever chemicals.”

Judith Enck is responding to an Investigative Post story published in September. The story, ‘More Danger Lurking in the Water,” covered a state and federal study of fishermen who eat their local catches. 

All of the fishermen tested had elevated levels of the toxin known as PFOS, one in a class of chemicals known as PFAS, but the highest were found in Burmese citizens, who make up one of Western New York’s largest immigrant communities. Their results were as much as 6.5 times higher than the national average. 

Enck, the EPA’s top administrator during the Obama years for the region that includes New York, told Investigative Post the findings in the story were “stunning” and “really disturbing.” 

Public officials and other agencies should do more to make people aware of the risks, Enck said, which include a host of damaging health effects, including immunity and fertility issues, hypertension and cancer.

“There needs to be signs all over that waterfront, and not just brochures that no one reads. I mean, those are really high levels,” she said.

“They’re probably experiencing some health problems,” Enck said, adding she had made calls to local advocacy groups, like Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. “They may not know why that is happening. They need medical monitoring, right away.”

The chemicals were used widely in industrial and household goods for decades, including firefighting foams and lubricants; and nonstick coatings, like teflon, food packaging and fabric protectors. 

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Jill Jedlicka, Waterkeeper’s executive director, said the group is one of several in the state “sounding the alarm on the risks from PFAS for some time now.”

“There is no known safe level of PFAS in drinking water. Waterkeeper will be advocating strongly for state and federal regulators to direct resources into WNY for dedicated testing and monitoring in our community, and wherever they are found, we will fight for both public transparency and the timely cleanup of these damaging contaminants.”