Pennsylvania to increase PFAS monitoring in rivers and streams

The announcement comes a month after the USGS found 76% of waterways in the state contain PFAS.

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Neshaminy Creek at sunset

File photo: In this Dec. 15, 2010 photo, the Neshaminy Creek is shown after sunset in Chalfont Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will increase monitoring for the toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS. The announcement comes about a month after the U.S. Geological Survey found 76% of at least 161 rivers and streams in the state contained one or more of the so-called “forever chemicals.”

PFAS are commonly used in products from nonstick cookware to firefighting foam, and can remain in the environment — and the human bloodstream — for years. The chemicals are linked to serious health problems, including some cancers, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and developmental delays in children. That has led to numerous lawsuits against companies that make the products, such as DuPont and its successor companies, and 3M.

Wastewater treatment facilities and electronics manufacturers are top PFAS polluters in the state — particularly in highly-populated areas such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, according to the USGS. The researchers collaborated with the DEP to complete the study.

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“There is still a great deal to learn about these dangerous ‘forever chemicals,’ … [The USGS] study has expanded our understanding, and will assist in determining what steps need to be taken in addressing issues associated with this emerging contaminant,” said DEP Secretary Rich Negrin in a statement. “Our findings have already helped, and will continue to help guide DEP’s actions regarding where to focus resources on identifying, tracking, and addressing potential sources of PFAS contamination.”

DEP said it will increase sampling for PFAS in hotspots identified by the USGS, such as Valley Creek near Valley Forge, and in the Neshaminy Creek near Langhorne. The PFAS monitoring efforts will help the agency limit the amount of PFAS discharged into rivers and streams.

DEP also plans to require some wastewater treatment plants to track when it discharges PFAS into waterways to help the agency better understand where PFAS contamination comes from.

Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the initiatives are a step in the right direction, but also calls for a complete prohibition of releasing PFAS into waterways.

“We have to stop the source of the PFAS that is getting into our water — or else we’re forever trying to remove it through filtration at our drinking water plants,” she said.

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In addition to establishing the sources of PFAS contamination, the state should work with manufacturers to cease using the chemicals, said David Velinsky, an environmental scientist and professor at Drexel University. He added that environmental agencies and scientists must also evaluate the health risks of newer chemicals.

“There needs to be a way to assess these chemicals before they’re put into manufacturing … so in 40 years from now there’s not another ‘Oh my God’ problem that’s out there,” Velinsky said.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania implemented restrictions on the amount of PFAS allowable in drinking water.

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