PFAS report identifies hundreds of Pa. manufacturing sites

Detailed view on the newly instaled system to filter out PFAS Forever Chemicals at Well #2 of the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority facility in Horsham, Pa., on August 22, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Detailed view on the newly instaled system to filter out PFAS Forever Chemicals at Well #2 of the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority facility in Horsham, Pa., on August 22, 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

This story originally appeared on StateImpact Pennsylvania.

A new report identifies nearly 30,000 industrial sites in the U.S. — including hundreds in Pennsylvania — as “suspected industrial discharge sites” that may be at risk for leaching a class of toxic chemicals known as PFAS into drinking water supplies.

The chemicals don’t break down easily in the environment, which is why they’re called “forever chemicals.” The strength of their bonds makes them useful for waterproofing and stain resistance, as well as non-stick cookware, food packaging and firefighting foam.

PFAS have been detected at concerning levels in some water supplies, especially near military installations in Pennsylvania and across the country. Studies of some of the PFAS chemicals show a link to low birth weight, pre-eclampsia and increased cholesterol, as well as impacts to liver, kidney and thyroid health.

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The nonprofit Environmental Working Group compiled the recent report, which maps potential pollution sites. In Pennsylvania, those include businesses such as paper mills and metal shops as well as sewage treatment plants and dump sites.

Environmental Working Group scientist David Andrews pointed out that the report doesn’t use water samples because nobody has tested them yet. Rather, it focuses on sites the federal government identified as likely to use PFAS in manufacturing processes.

Andrews said there needs to be more regulation at those sites to make sure chemicals don’t end up in drinking water — and when possible, the chemicals should not be used at all.

“We’re calling on much greater scrutiny on the release of these chemicals into the environment because they don’t break down, and they really have the potential to cause serious health harm,” Andrews said.

Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association president David Taylor said industrial sites already have containment strategies, and there are risks to regulation as well.

“If you turn the screws too tight on the productive sector, and you make it impossible for products to be made here at home, we’re going to force production to jurisdictions that have lower standards, or no standards at all,” Taylor said.

He noted that the use of PFAS for industrial use has not been banned by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The state government has looked into potential health effects of PFAS in recent years.

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“The Department of Health is partnering to participate in a multi-site health study that includes PFAS monitoring. We are working to finalize the steps to start the data collection process in order to collect data later this year,” said spokeswoman Maggi Barton.

In April, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced a funding plan to remediate areas polluted with PFAS.

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