EPA Opens Criminal Investigations into PFAS

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As part of what it's calling unprecedented efforts, the EPA has announced it now has multiple criminal investigations concerning PFAS-related pollution, a move Connecticut Attorney William Tong said is a “really important development.”

“It is a strong message any time criminal prosecutors and investigators get involved it underscores how very, very serious this problem is,” Tong said.

Tong’s office does not have the criminal authority to take on the PFAS crisis. His office, however, continues to consider civil action against companies that have potentially caused PFAS pollution in Connecticut.

“It really helps to have our federal partners, law enforcement and those who do have criminal authority working with us in a coordinated way to put pressure on wrongdoers,” Tong said.

PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” have been linked to health risks ranging from developmental effects in fetuses and infants and certain forms of cancer.

PFAS came under scrutiny in Connecticut last June when tens of thousands of gallons of firefighting foam containing the contaminant spilled into the Farmington River in Windsor after a malfunction at a private hangar at Bradley International Airport.

Initial testing of fish downstream of the spill showed elevated levels of PFAS and the state formed a task force to address contamination in Connecticut.  

“The sad reality is that PFAS chemicals are all around us,” Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney with the Environmental Working Group, said.

Benesh said the EPA’S criminal investigations into PFAS are long overdue.

“Historically the EPA has been slow, much too slow in our opinion to act on this issue. I hope that is not the case with this criminal investigation,” Benesh said.

In their 2019 Annual Report filed with the SEC, The Chemours Company, which manufactured PFAS, disclosed they are potentially facing federal investigations. NBC Connecticut Investigates reached out to the company Thursday for a comment but has yet to hear back.

For Tong, the federal criminal investigations are another resource that will help him get a better look at potential contamination in Connecticut.

“Bring in the cavalry to put pressure on these companies to do the right thing, to clean up, to stop polluting, to do the right thing,” Benesh said.

NBC Connecticut reached out to the EPA for more on the criminal investigations, including how long they might take, but the agency said it does not comment on ongoing or potential enforcement investigations.

Learn more about PFAS in Connecticut here.

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