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HIA investigated for possible chemicals in water system

Posted 4/16/19

The state plans to test water from more than 300 public water systems throughout Pennsylvania to check for the presence of chemicals known as PFAS.

Military bases are common sources of PFAS, …

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HIA investigated for possible chemicals in water system

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The state plans to test water from more than 300 public water systems throughout Pennsylvania to check for the presence of chemicals known as PFAS.

Military bases are common sources of PFAS, according to a DEP April 12 press release announcing the testing.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Repetz could not say if Middletown will be one of the systems being tested, despite the borough being next to the former Olmsted Air Force Base.

A small part of the former base in is Middletown. Most of it is in Lower Swatara Township.

Harrisburg International Airport, which is on the former Olmsted base, is one of 19 sites in Pennsylvania under investigation for the presence of PFAS, according to the DEP website.

The testing of public water systems for PFAS will begin in May, with the first planned phase lasting about a year, DEP said.

Repetz in an email to the Press & Journal said that a full list of the public water systems being tested for PFAS under the DEP sampling plan will be released when the monitoring is complete. Results will be posted to the DEP website.

“The sampling plan is not meant to be a definitive survey of all public water systems in Pennsylvania, but a representative sample to determine the prevalence of PFAS chemicals,” Repetz said.

Any public water system sampled by DEP found to exceed the health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion set by the Environmental Protection Agency “will be required to conduct confirmation sampling and provide public notification so that their customers can be made aware,” Repetz said.

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 EPA website.

PFAS are or have been found in many consumer products such as cookware, food packaging, and stain repellents. PFAS 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.

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 including low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer made in the United States because of phase-outs agreed to by eight major chemical manufacturers, according to the EPA.

While the EPA has established a health advisory limit for PFAS chemicals, in February it chose not to commit to setting a maximum contaminant level for the chemicals, according to the DEP.

Pennsylvania is taking “unprecedented steps to address PFAS, including beginning the process” of the state setting its own MCL for PFAS chemicals, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in the April 12 release.

This will be the first time DEP has set its own MCL rather than adopting standards set by the federal government, as DEP has with all other regulated drinking water contaminants, DEP said.

Gov. Tom Wolf in September created a PFAS Action Team to address PFAS contaminants across Pennsylvania.

Shortly before DEP announced its testing on April 12, an official with Suez — the private company that operates the Middletown public water system — was quoted in an April 9 PennLive article saying that Suez planned to test its water systems for PFAS chemicals.

The comment followed word that PFAS had been found in the tap water of a resident of Newberry Township, York County, a public water system operated by Suez.

Suez did not provide information for this article in response to a request from the Press & Journal for comment regarding what, if anything, Suez plans to do to address the possibility of PFAS chemicals being in the Middletown public water system.