Kristen Mello wasn’t invited to the EPA’s upcoming “National Leadership Summit” on PFOA, PFOS, and other PFAS chemicals. For most of her life, Mello, a member of Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves, drank water contaminated with the chemicals that are going to be discussed at the meeting. At least six compounds in this class seeped into local drinking water from firefighting foam used at the Air National Guard base in her hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts. Mello and several of her immediate family members have developed some of the health problems associated with the chemicals, including thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and liver problems. While most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS, Westfield is one of the growing number of communities to learn they’ve had an especially high dose of the chemicals as the result of living near a military installation or manufacturing site that used them.
But when Mello sent the EPA a request to attend the PFAS summit, which will be held May 22-23 at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., the agency said she wasn’t welcome. “EPA has limited the invitation to federal partners, states, territories, tribes and representatives from national organizations,” the EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water wrote to Mello in an email. Although the summit is intended to identify actions “needed to address challenges currently facing states and local communities,” according to the agency’s website, the people in these communities who are directly affected by the chemicals will be strikingly absent from the meeting.
“We have 35 members as part of our coalition and every single one of them has reached out either to the EPA or to their state agencies asking to be represented at the summit,” said Shaina Kasper, Vermont and New Hampshire state director at the Toxics Action Network. “In each case, we’ve heard ‘no, there will be no community group representation.’ We’re so disappointed.”
While the people suffering from this contamination will not be at the meeting, the manufacturers of the chemicals used in the production of Teflon and other nonstick, water resistant, and stain resistant products will be well represented. Jessica Bowman, an attorney who works for the American Chemistry Council and the Fluorocouncil, an international group representing companies that make PFAS chemicals, will be speaking at 9:15 a.m., according to the meeting agenda.
When asked how the EPA had decided whom to invite