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Federal agency finds most PA streams contaminated with PFAS


The U.S. Geological Survey said water samples from Pennsylvania’s streams found more than three-quarters of the waterways polluted with “forever chemicals.”

In 2019, researchers collected samples from 161 streams and rivers across the state, testing the water for 33 types of PFAS, per-polyfluoroalkl substances. The study’s results, released last week, found 76% of the samples had at least one of the compounds.

While the greatest contamination was found in the Philadelphia region, Bucks County’s Neshaminy Creek and Valley Creek in Chester County were the only streams in the state that exceeded the EPA’s latest proposed health standard that would significantly reduce permissible levels of PFASs in drinking water.

The former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham was found to be a major contributor to the area’s contamination due to its decades’ long use of firefighting foam, among the many materials that contain PFAS.

In new findings, the USGS identified electronics manufacturing as contributing to PFAS pollution.

“This is the first statewide study that associates electronics manufacturing as a source of PFAS in streams, which is likely an under-recognized, but significant source of PFAS contamination,” said Sara Breitmeyer, a USGS chemist and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals found in everything from cosmetics, household cleaning products, non-stick cookware and water-resistant clothing to the lining of fast-food boxes and numerous other products.

High concentrations of the compounds have been linked to a variety of health concerns including thyroid problems, decreased fertility, and increased risk of some cancers.

“Their persistence in the environment and prevalence across the country make them a unique water-quality concern,” the EPA has said.

Last March, Bucks County Commissioners and the county’s district attorney filed a lawsuit against several PFAS manufacturers, including 3M, DuPont and Tyco, for their alleged role in contaminating the county’s water and soil.

“While we will continue to investigate and study the health effects of these harmful chemicals, the time to hold these companies accountable is now,” Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie said at the time. “They knew that their firefighting foam products contained these toxic substances when they peddled them, and that they were dangerous even when used properly.”

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