EB White

E.B. White and his dog, Minnie. 

E. B. White, the beloved American author of “Charlotte’s Web” and numerous other works, held himself to be “a shareholder in the corporate earth (and) uneasy about management.”

This, he said, came from “man’s creeping contamination of the planet … industrial poisons in rivers” and air pollutants — like radioactive strontium from nuclear-weapons-testing fallout — impregnating the soils and thus, through food, becoming “additive in our bones.”

New and toxic industrial, “per- and polyfluoroalkyl” substances, or PFAS, are now in wide use. A 2022 study by the Harvard School of Public Health cites health problems linked to their exposure to include thyroid disease and cancer, stunted development, immune system weakening, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. However, because PFAS are strongly stain- and water- and fire- resistant, they are ubiquitous in manufacturing processes and in many common products, in furniture and carpets, food packaging, various textiles, cosmetics, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam.

There are thousands of them, and they are making it into our bodies. The study notes that PFAS have “...been detected in the blood of over 98% of Americans.”

For another quality, of long-lasting and cumulative persistence in the environment, they are called “forever chemicals.” Being non-natural substances, they are extremely resistant to breakdown, persisting for decades or even “millennia” as a study in the March 3 Science Issue notes. Through many sources — pesticides, industrial wastewater and our ease of discarding the “built-for-obsolescence” products, for example, human and environmental exposure to the PFAS is growing and its pollution threatens ecosystems worldwide.

The Environmental Protection Agency now is developing Clean Water Act standards for six PFAS known to have contaminated drinking water supplies almost nationwide. For two of them it sets a goal of zero and a binding limit of 4 ppt (four parts per trillion) in public drinking water systems. For the other four its proposes an enforceable limit based on a hazard index for their cumulative effects.

The EPA is seeking public input to the rule-making and will receive comments until May 30. These it prefers being submitted via e-mail (https://www.regulations.gov/); they must include this identification: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2022-0114.

Author White insisted that “the correct amount of strontium in the soil is no strontium.” Though grateful that some PFAS contamination will be regulated in our drinking water, an outright ban — at least of industrial wastewater discharges into our water bodies — and no further approval of yet more PFAS chemicals — seems desirable. Five European Union countries, the Science study notes, “have proposed a complete phaseout of PFASs” and, it recommends, “other countries should ban PFAS use as well.”


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