Maryland Waterways Contain High Levels Of "Forever Chemicals"
HAVRE DE GRACE - One of Maryland's largest riverkeeper organizations is calling for the state to improve testing for PFAs, or "forever chemicals," in local waterways.
The Waterkeeper Alliance studied 114 watersheds around the country, including 16 in the Chesapeake bay region. The study found that Maryland has the highest total number of waterways containing PFAs, and the highest number of different PFAS compounds of any state.
PFAS have been the subject of much conversation among the scientific and riverkeeper communities recently after the EPA proposed designating two of the most widely used PFAS as hazardous substances.
This article will break down PFAs, and what increased levels in Maryland mean for residents of Havre de Grace.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals used in products since the 1940s. They are used in a variety of consumer, commercial and industrial products. Two of the most common PFAs are PFOA and PFOS.
According to the EPA, PFAs are long-lasting and can take centuries to break down entirely. Due to their propensity to linger in the environment, PFAS can be found in the blood of people and animals worldwide.
On August 26, 2022, the EPA proposed designating two of the most widely used PFAS as hazardous substances. The EPA released an interim recommendation for acceptable PFAs levels in drinking water, stating that PFOA levels should remain below .04 parts per trillion and PFOS levels should remain below .02 parts per trillion.
How much PFAs are in Maryland waterways and the Susquehanna?
Two recent studies have raised the alarm over PFAS levels. The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeepers Association sampled the Kreutz Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna, as a part of a study testing 113 waterways across the United States for the presence of PFAs. According to the Riverkeepers Association, the results for the Susquehanna were the worst among all samples collected. The samples showed levels of PFOs at 374.3 parts per trillion (ppt) and PFOA at 847 ppt in addition to 25 other PFAs compounds at very high levels. These levels are thousands of times higher than the EPA deemed acceptable for drinking water.
The most recent study by the Waterkeeper Alliance specifically calls out the upper Potomac and La Trappe Creek as containing the highest concentrations of PFAs.
According to ShoreRivers, one of the riverkeeper groups conducting the study of Maryland waterways says "concerning levels" of PFAs were detected in five out of eight water samples they collected. La Trappe Creek (near the Trappe wastewater treatment plant on the Choptank), Mill Creek on the Wye East River, Morgan Creek on the Chester River, and a different Mill Creek in the Sassafras River watershed all contained high concentrations of PFAs.
Where do PFAs come from, and what do they do?
PFAs are a ubiquitous ingredient in a large number of consumer products. Teflon non-stick cookware, firefighting foam, stain-resistant fabrics, water-repellant clothing, fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and more have been shown to contain PFAS.
The EPA says that exposure to certain levels of PFAs may lead to various adverse health effects. Current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that PFAS can cause decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women, Developmental effects or delays in children, Increased risk of some cancers, immunodeficiency, and more.
According to Matt Pluta, ShoreRivers' Choptank Riverkeeper and Director of Riverkeeper Programs, it won't be long before PFAS accumulate in wildlife.
"The results of this study clearly demonstrate the need to urgently increase monitoring for these chemicals in our rivers," Pluta said. "Once we begin detecting PFAS in local waterways and on our land, it's only a matter of time before we begin to detect them in the fish, crabs, oysters, and even venison that we eat."
This study underscores the importance of safeguarding against wastewater pollution, Pluta says. "The PFAS results from La Trappe Creek at the point where the Town of Trappe's wastewater treatment plant discharges underscore the need to upgrade and modernize the treatment technology at these older systems before contamination levels get worse."
Many riverkeeper associations are calling on state governments and the EPA to do a better job testing for and regulating these "forever chemicals."
ShoreRivers has voiced their support for more testing to gain a clearer picture of the levels of these chemicals in Eastern Shore waterways.
In their statement, the Susquehanna Riverkeeper association also asked the EPA to do more to regulate PFAs.
"This data plainly demonstrates that Congress and EPA must act with urgency to control persistent PFAS contamination across the country. The current lack of oversight puts the health and safety of communities and ecosystems across the nation at risk and results in costly cleanup and treatment activities to remove PFAS contamination after it has occurred."
The EPA has proposed several technological solutions to filtering PFAs in drinking water. Technologies such as Activated Carbon Treatment, Ion Exchange Treatment, and High-pressure Membranes have been shown to effectively remove PFAS from drinking water in testing.
To read the entire report from Waterkeeper Alliance, visit waterkeeper.org/pfas.