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Area water supplies safe from PFAS chemicals, according to tests; HIA levels back to acceptable

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/6/19

Public water systems serving customers in Middletown, Highspire, Lower Swatara and Royalton have all tested below the health advisory level set by the federal government for PFAS, based on results of …

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Area water supplies safe from PFAS chemicals, according to tests; HIA levels back to acceptable

Posted

Public water systems serving customers in Middletown, Highspire, Lower Swatara and Royalton have all tested below the health advisory level set by the federal government for PFAS, based on results of test samples drawn in recent months.

In addition, samples of water drawn from the Harrisburg International Airport water system have now fallen below the 70 parts per trillion health advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency, airport spokesman Scott Miller told the Press & Journal on Friday.

HIA had been making bottled water available to travelers at stations throughout the main terminal building, following Nov. 14 when the airport learned that samples drawn Oct. 28 had exceeded the EPA health advisory level.

The results showing that PFAS in the HIA system had fallen back to under the 70 parts-per-trillion threshold were from samples taken of the airport water Nov. 25.

Known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the United States and worldwide since the 1940s, according to  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to EPA, studies indicate that PFAS chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals.

The chemicals have caused tumors in animals.

EPA says the most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use (or used) firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS, according to EPA.

The airport was developed on the former Olmsted Air Force Base. DEP has identified military bases as a common source of PFAS.

Miller has said the airport does not know the source of the PFAS in the airport’s water system, which relies on groundwater.

According to Miller, the airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to use a firefighting foam that has some PFAS in it. He said the airport disposes of the foam as hazardous waste and that it does not go into the groundwater.

Providing the bottled water for the stations in the terminal has been an added expense, one HIA cannot recoup because it is not able to raise water rates on its customers, Miller noted.

The airport plans to install a carbon filtration system on one of its groundwater supply wells to filter out the PFAS. If that works, HIA hopes to install the system on its water treatment plant to filter out PFAS from the entire system, Miller has said.

Otherwise, drinking water that is used by customers living in Highspire borough and in Lower Swatara Township was collected and tested for PFAS on Aug. 20 by Suez water.

The samples all came in below the EPA health advisory for PFAS, according to Suez spokeswoman Chelsea Hess-Moore.

Suez owns the Hummelstown water treatment plant, which provides drinking water to residents of Highspire and Lower Swatara. The plant’s primary source of water is the Swatara Creek, Hess-Moore said.

Suez is not currently required to do regular testing for PFAS, so going forward Hess-Moore could not say how often the Hummelstown plant water will be tested for PFAS.

“We do not have set or regular times in which we will test as of right now,” she said.

The Middletown public water system, which also serves Royalton borough, is also operated by Suez under a 50-year lease of the system to Suez that borough council and the former authority approved in 2014.

Most recently, the Middletown system was tested for PFAS  in September by the state Department of Environmental Protection, as part of a statewide sampling of water systems that DEP announced in April.

Results came in below the health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a letter from DEP to Suez provided to the Press & Journal by Middletown Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter.

The Middletown results were also affirmed earlier this week, when DEP released results of its first round of testing under the statewide sampling.

In the first round of sampling conducted by DEP, just one of 96 sampled sites — including Middletown — exceeded the federal health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. That was the State of the Art Inc. site in Benner Township, Centre County, a private business with a water system that is used by workers at the facility, DEP said in a Dec. 5 press release.

DEP is also continuing to work toward establishing its own maximum contaminant level for PFAS, in the absence of the EPA declining to do so in February, according to the Wolf administration.