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Doylestown Borough looks to treatment options for PFAS in water supply


Like countless communities across the country, the small borough of Doylestown has PFAS, or so-called “forever chemicals,” in its water supply.

How to address the perplexing and expensive problem has been front and center for the town over the past couple of years, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is creating stricter limits on the contaminant levels.

By establishing maximum contaminant levels at a national level, the EPA wants to require two common types of PFAS compounds, called PFOA and PFOS, to be limited to four parts per trillion, the lowest level reliably detectable by current testing.

Additionally, the agency wants to regulate the combined amount of four other types of PFAS, a group of compounds that are widespread, dangerous and expensive to remove from water. The chemicals have been linked to a number of serious health concerns, including low birth weight and kidney cancer.

Doylestown Borough initiated a study of its five wells last year. At the time, officials said, the community’s wells were well below the federal guidelines, then set at 70 parts per trillion. As the EPA looks to reduce those levels to four parts per trillion, the borough said its planning is based on zero.

“It’s not any cheaper to treat to 0.14 than it is to zero,” said borough manager John Davis, last fall.

Davis estimated the cost to the borough of about 8,500 residents to be between $7.5 million and $10 million, with annual maintenance costs approaching $300,000 annually. A new $5 “capital fee” has already been added to residents’ water bills.

Borough officials commissioned a PFAS study to determine which treatment option would best address its water supply.

Three types of treatment are currently available, the borough reported.

Granular Activated Carbon: This treatment method uses a porous mixture of wood, coconut shells, coal or peat to purify the water. It’s a proven technology, officials said, that has up to 99.9 percent efficiency. Carbon media is less expensive than ion exchange, but doesn’t last as long. It also has lower installation and operating costs, the borough report said.

Ion Exchange: In this treatment, the water passes through a bed of synthetic resin. The negatively charged contaminants in the water are exchanged with “more innocuous” negatively charged ions, typically chloride, on the resin’s surface. It’s proven to provide greater than 99 percent removal of PFAS.

Once removed, the brine used for the decontamination process has to be disposed of safely, the report said. Ion exchange can lower the pH of treated water.

Reverse Osmosis: This is a membrane-separation method that allows water to pass through while stopping the passage of organic and inorganic matter. It also provides more than 99 percent removal of PFOA and PFOS, the report stated.

No decisions have been made on a treatment plan.

To learn more about the borough’s plans, visit

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