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September 19, 2023

Pa. to increasingly monitor waterways for PFAS contamination

After finding the 'forever chemicals' in many streams, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is taking more frequent water and fish tissue samples

Environment PFAS
PFAS surface water Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

DEP announced Tuesday new policies to monitor "forever chemicals" in untreated surface water throughout the state.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is keeping a closer eye on the "forever chemicals" found in many state waterways.

The DEP said Tuesday that it will begin taking more frequent water samples in areas of concern for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. The department also will start a monitoring program requiring wastewater treatment plants to screen for PFAS in their discharges, in order to find out where the chemicals are originating.

Additional fish tissue samples also will be collected. If necessary, fish consumption warnings will be issued for waterways with concerning PFAS levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PFAS can be harmful to human health.

"There is still a great deal to learn about these dangerous 'forever chemicals,'" DEP Secretary Rich Negrin said in a statement. "Pennsylvania has been a proactive leader in addressing issues related to this emerging contaminant particularly when it comes to drinking water and public safety."

While the DEP implemented statewide limits for PFAS in drinking water in January, its new policies will help set standards for untreated surface water. They follow a joint DEP and U.S. Geological Survey report released in August, which found PFAS in 76% of the Pennsylvania streams tested. Researchers initially collected the samples in 2019 and found especially high levels in the Philadelphia area, as well as in Bucks County's Neshaminy Creek and Chester County's Valley Creek. The findings led to a fish consumption advisory for Neshaminy Creek, warning the public not to eat fish from any part of the creek's basin.

PFAS have come under more scrutiny in recent years due to their adverse health effects. The chemicals have been linked to increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, higher cholesterol levels and fertility problems. A CDC study flagged high levels of PFAS in several Bucks and Montgomery county residents earlier this year, prompting recommendations for regular cancer screenings.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed national limits on PFAS in drinking water. If adopted, the proposal would require water utilities to limit perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), two of the most common types of PFAS, to 4 parts per trillion. For comparison, 1 part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of contaminant in 500,000 barrels of water.

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