PFAS 101: What they are, why it matters | Five for the Weekend

By: - July 17, 2021 6:30 am

(c) Brian Jackson – Stock.Adobe.com

Happy weekend, all.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the headlines about PFAS or Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (rolls right off the tongue, right?).

Note: You might also hear perfluorooctane sulfonic Acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in reporting about these chemicals. These are all types of PFAS. 

These man-made chemicals are used for a variety of purposes, including making waterproof cosmetics, stain-resistant fabrics and carpeting to non-stick cookware. To summarize, they are abundant in our daily lives.

But because of their by-design durability, these chemicals do not break down, say, in water, soil and air, making them a dangerous pollutant when they end up in our drinking water supply or in the bellies of that delicious looking fish we just caught.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), PFAS are labeled an “emerging contaminant” because their effects on humans, animals and the environment are not completely understood.

While their impacts are not completely understood, guidance from the state Department of Health says that humans ingest PFAS chemicals through food and drink as well as through our lungs and skin.

The pervasive chemicals have even been found in breastmilk.

A statewide sampling of public water systems began in June 2019, after an executive order issued by Gov. Tom Wolf a year earlier established the PFAS Action Team in an attempt to address PFAS contaminants.

The results of the sampling, released last month, “did not indicate widespread PFAS contamination,” according to the DEP. 

However, southeastern Pennsylvania has logged reports of the chemical contaminants.

The Capital-Star reported last month that a U.S House Panel approved legislation to clean up PFAS chemicals nationwide.

There are currently no federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that restrict or ban the discharge of PFAS chemicals from companies and manufacturers. A U.S. House vote is expected on new EPA standards next week.

Hopefully, this blurb about PFAS was a helpful first step to understanding the issue around these chemicals. The Capital-Star will continue to report on the topic of PFAS contaminants in Pennsylvania.

As always, the top 5 stories from the week are below. 

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin (R) and Saccone at the U.S. Capitol (Facebook photo)

1. With audit, Pa. Sen. Mastriano is obscuring his own role in fomenting election chaos | Opinion

Sometimes the guy who calls the fire department is the one who started the fire.

This is certainly the case for Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who recently has fashioned himself into a loud and proud crusader for election integrity.

The problem for Mastriano, R-Franklin, is that he voted for Act 77, the notorious 2019 legislation that caused most of the 2020 election dysfunction in Pennsylvania and tilted the playing field against President Donald Trump in the Commonwealth.

To be sure, most Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly supported the bill. But only Mastriano has turned the 2020 election fiasco into the entire justification for his quest for higher office. Now widely expected to be a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, Mastriano has been front and center, screaming about the events of last year, which he helped set in motion himself.

Republicans rightly believed that the longstanding practice of straight-ticket voting disadvantaged their down-ballot candidates because Democrats hold a voter registration advantage in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks at a Capitol steps rally in Harrisburg on June 5, 2021. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

2. What you need to know about the GOP-backed audit of Pa.’s elections

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Senate took steps to review the 2020 election last week, requesting thousands of documents from three counties across the state.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, an ally of former President Donald Trump, announced the review Wednesday during a tour of conservative radio shows.

He said it was a way to restore trust in elections following the 2020 election — an election that Trump and Mastriano tried for months to delegitimize with baseless claims of fraud.

“The case for a forensic investigation of the 2020 general election is evident to any unbiased observer,” Mastriano said.

For clarity’s sake, here’s everything you need to know about what Mastriano is proposing:

Pa.’s state-owned universities. (Via PASSHE website)

3. Pa. State System unanimously moves to consolidate six schools into regional campuses

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors has approved the most transformative restructuring in the system’s 38-year history, as it voted Wednesday to consolidate six state-owned universities into two regional campuses.

The unanimous vote, which came after weeks of heated public debate, will turn Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities in the northeast and California, Clarion, and Edinboro in the west, into single institutions.

The decision ends a years-long advocacy effort to address sagging enrollment and rising tuition; however, “it’s a journey that will take us more years to complete, board Chairperson Cindy Shapira said.

Under the approved plan, each of the six campuses will remain open and offer a residential experience, but they’ll operate under different names.

“Through it, we will create two regional powerhouses,” State System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein, who said he would recommend dissolving the system if the consolidation plan was voted down earlier this year, said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaking to the press at PEMA headquarters in Harrisburg. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

4. State funding for Pa. public broadcasting eliminated in new budget

Among the few losers of Pennsylvania’s most recent state budget, passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last month, are Pennsylvania’s public broadcasters.

The $40 billion- plus budget pumped more taxpayer money into education and violence prevention while saving billions of dollars for the future.

But even with a multi-billion dollar surplus, seven public TV and radio stations — such as WHYY in Philadelphia, WQED in Pittsburgh, and WITF in Harrisburg saw their funding eliminated.

They had received $2.75 million in state taxpayer support since 2016, but that was reduced to zero this year.

It’s hard to say why the cuts were made and who made them. Legislative Republicans say it matched a request from Wolf., An administration spokesperson claimed Republicans did not agree to the funding.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, addresses a crowd of Trump supporters at the Pennsylvania state Capitol on Saturday, Nov. 7, the day the presidential race was called for Democrat Joe Biden. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

5. Pa. GOP lawmaker Mastriano doubles down on election audit, requests meeting with President Biden

Despite state Democrats’ attempt to dissuade efforts to investigate the state’s two most recent elections, the GOP lawmaker who’s leading the proposed review isn’t giving up. He’s doubling down.

“A full forensic investigation is necessary for the sake of transparency and accountability,” Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, wrote in a letter he said was sent Tuesday to President Joe Biden. “Those who have concerns about the integrity of the election will have those concerns investigated and hopefully addressed. Those who think that there was zero voter fraud, no irregularities and that the elections were conducted perfectly will have the chance to be vindicated.”

Mastriano, who shared the letter online Monday evening, also requested a meeting with Biden, who delivered a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

And that’s the week. See you back here next weekend. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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