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Regulation

Federal government should oversee chemical use

Regulation of toxic chemicals ought to be handled by the federal government, which has the resources and expertise to handle the job better than any state. Still, it is understandable that a group of West Virginia legislators is proposing a state government initiative on one class of chemicals — C8.

C8 has become commonly accepted shorthand for per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals. The substances are behind one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s biggest failures.

For many years, chemical giant DuPont used C8 to manufacture Teflon at a plant near Parkersburg. For decades, the chemical seeped into ground water in that area and across the river in Ohio.

According to a federal study, EPA officials thought C8 was not hazardous to humans. It is. The chemical, which does not break down in the body, can accumulate and cause serious illnesses.

In 2017, DuPont and an associated company agreed to pay $670 million to settle class-action lawsuits involving C8, filed on behalf of about 3,500 people. Clearly, C8 is a problem.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, held a press conference this week to reveal that a coalition of legislators will introduce a bill regarding PFAS — another name for the C8-class of chemicals — early next year. “Sadly, many … toxic pollutants remain unregulated across the country and in West Virginia,” Hansen said.

A bill named the West Virginia Clean Drinking Water Act will be proposed. It would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop standards for safe levels of PFAS in drinking water, and identify sources of contamination by the chemical.

But the state lacks expertise and resources to carry out that mission. A better approach would be to pressure the U.S. EPA to step up its game regarding C8 and related chemicals. Congressional delegations from West Virginia and Ohio should take the lead in making that happen — or demanding federal funding for states to do the job.