A new state regulation to limit so-called “forever chemicals” in drinking water is one step away from becoming official after its approval by a state review committee.
PFAS, or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals produced as early as the 1930’s and mostly used in non-stick cookware, waterproof products, and firefighting foam. In this group, PFOS and PFOAS are the two most commonly used in the U.S. before their effects were known.
These chemicals are hard to break down and are known to cause cancer and other health issues in laboratory animals and humans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Various homeowners and environmental groups in York County discovered elevated levels of PFAS in their drinking water supplies — and along the Kreutz Creek.
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The new rule would change safe drinking water regulations by setting a maximum contaminant level, or MCL, on PFAS in public drinking water. The MCL rule would not however, apply to privately owned water sources, an Enviromental Quality Board member said at the meeting.
PFOS would be limited to 18 parts per trillion, or ppt, and PFOA to 14 ppt, according to the MCL rule.
The Enviromental Quality Board, a 20-person board that adopts state regulations, presented the MCL rule to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) at its Nov. 17 meeting. The IRRC reviews commonwealth agency regulations so they are in public interest, according to its website.
The Enviromental Protection Agency recently updated its own PFAS health advisory, a non-enforceable guideline, placing limits on safe amounts of PFAS in drinking water. That advisory is significantly lower than the proposal in Pennsylvania, setting limits of .004 and .02 parts per trillion for the most common types of PFAS chemicals.
Currently, there are no enforceable regulations on PFAS levels in drinking water or ground water at a state or federal level in Pennsylvania. Some water treatment facilities test for the chemicals — but testing is not mandatory.
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Pennsylvania’s new MCL rule approved this week will likely change that. It nears the end of a 10-step journey by landing on the desk of the attorney general, according to the DEP. If approved by the attorney general, the proposed MCL rule will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and become immediately enforceable.
Lisa Daniels, from the enviromental quality board, highlighted the risk PFAS pose citing studies that have found potential connections between PFAS exposure and cancers, low birthweights and weakened immune systems. Research from the Center for Disease Control and National Cancer Institute back these potential connections up as well.
PFAS use has lead to “elevated levels of enviromental pollution and exposure in some areas of Pennsylvania,” Daniels said.
These findings are echoed by a recent study from the Water Keeper Association that found the Kreutz Creek, in Lower Windsor Township, to have the highest PFAS levels out of all water ways they tested in 34 states.
This isn’t the first time Lower Windsor Township has heard of PFAS in the Kreutz Creek either. Ted Evgeniadis, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper has been sampling water in the creek up and down stream from Modern Landfill’s wastewater discharge pipes for the past year.
Along with high levels of Boron and Nitrates which, he found levels of PFOS at 374 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOAS at 847 ppt. The recently updated Enviromental Protection Agency lifetime health advisories, non-enforceable guideline, limits PFOS to 0.02 ppt and PFOA to just 0.004 ppt .
Republic Services, the owner of Modern Landfill, is in the process of installing a reverse osmosis water filtration system to treat these issues which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.
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While the Kreutz Creek is not a source of drinking water, residents remain concerned as children and pets have often played in the creek while some adults may not be aware of the contaminants. Several have even had their wells tested for PFAS and have approached the township for support.
Even before the PFAS MCL got the committee’s approval, Evgeniadis said “it’s a great step in the right direction.” He hopes regulations on PFAS levels in groundwater will follow.
For more information on PFAS regulations in Pennsylvania, visit the DEP website at https://www.dep.pa.gov/Citizens/My-Water/drinking_water/PFAS/Pages/default.aspx.
— Reach Noel Miller at [email protected] or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.