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SC lawmakers propose drinking-water limits on toxic chemicals found at military bases

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Firefighters in North Charleston spray an industrial firefighting foam to fight a fuel fire on August 17, 2006. South Carolina lawmakers want to set an enforceable limit on toxic chemicals that have been found in the groundwater under military bases. File 

Several South Carolina lawmakers want to set an enforceable limit on toxic chemicals that have been found in the groundwater under military bases throughout the state.

Rep. JA Moore, D-North Charleston, and three Democratic colleagues have sponsored a bill for the legislative session that begins Jan. 14 in Columbia.

The proposal would order the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to regulate what are commonly known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, PFAS for short. 

The chemicals were used for decades to manufacture items such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant furniture and an industrial firefighting foam used by fire departments and the U.S. military.

In the past two decades, the compounds have been found in soil, groundwater and drinking- water systems throughout the country. 

In South Carolina, the chemicals have been detected in groundwater under Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, Joint Base Charleston, the North Auxiliary Airfield in Orangeburg County and the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base.

The Defense Department suspects the chemicals could be found at other bases, such as Fort Jackson, the former Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. 

The PFAS chemicals were never formally regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government has yet to establish an enforceable limit for the chemicals in drinking water. 

The bill could change that in South Carolina. The Democratic lawmakers want state health officials to establish a limit for the chemicals, which have been studied for potential links to developmental issues, thyroid disorders, immune problems and kidney and testicular cancers.

If that were to happen, South Carolina would be one of the first states in the country to set an enforceable limit on the chemicals. 

"We have a chance on this bill to not wait on the federal government," Moore said. "We can lead on this issue." 

"These specific toxins affect urban areas and areas around military bases," he added. 

Many other states are already running statewide testing programs to find possible sources of contamination from the chemicals.

DHEC told The Post and Courier earlier this year the agency is not going test for or regulate the industrial chemicals until the federal government acts first. 

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Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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