Baltimore’s water system contains PFAS chemicals at levels above EPA’s new health advice – Baltimore Sun

Baltimore’s water system, which serves 1.8 million homes and businesses in the city and county of Baltimore, contains measurable levels of so-called “forever chemicals,” which the Federal Environmental Protection Agency said last week posed health risks even at minimum levels.

Chemicals known as PFAS, used in fire foams and consumer products because of their non-stick and stain-resistant properties, have been found in the system at a concentration of 4.93 parts per trillion, according to a report by the city’s public construction department.

This level is well below the previous threshold for health advice and below PFAS concentrations recently found in dozens of other sites around Maryland.

But the EPA said last week that any measurable level of PFAS chemicals – they can’t be detected at levels below 4 parts per trillion at the moment, officials said – suggests that water supply should step up monitoring of substances and explore technologies and strategies. which can reduce them.

In its annual report on drinking water, published on Thursday, the public works department said that “no further action is currently planned” to address PFAS. The department said it expects the EPA to issue federal regulations “in the near future” that will require additional monitoring.

Public works officers could not be found late Thursday for further comment.

The EPA announced last week that it was replacing a previous health consultation for PFAS, which suggested that concentrations below 70 parts per trillion could be considered safe. The new standard, although not yet applicable, sets PFAS health risk thresholds at near-zero concentrations, suggesting that chemicals pose health risks even at such low levels that they cannot be detected.

PFAS, abbreviated to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a collection of thousands of compounds with such strong chemical bonds that they do not degrade or do so very slowly in the environment and remain in the human bloodstream indefinitely. They can be found in everything from non-stick pans to stain-resistant carpets to cosmetics to fire-retardant foam. They are associated with health risks, including cancer and low birth weight.

As more is learned about the spread of chemicals and their potential harm, some countries have moved to monitor them better and limit their use. Several states have set their own drinking water restrictions to tackle PFAS pollution, which is stricter than federal guidelines. The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation this year banning the use of PFAS in fire-fighting foams, paper food packaging, carpets and rugs.

The Maryland Department of the Environment began monitoring PFAS in the state’s drinking water systems in 2020 with EPA grant money and published results in two reports last July and April.

In an initial phase of 129 water treatment plants serving 4.3 million Maryland residents, 75% of the samples had quantifiable PFAS levels, including 21% at levels of 10 parts per trillion or more.

Wales in Hampstead and Westminster in Carol County have the highest levels found in the study, around 240 parts per trillion, and have been phased out.

In a smaller study of aquifers around the state, more than half of the samples contained measurable PFAS.

The Baltimore Drinking Water Quality Report found no violations of any regulatory standards.

“A lot has changed across the Baltimore region since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the ability of the Baltimore Public Works Department to provide safe, high-quality drinking water remains constant, “said Jason Mitchell, director of public affairs, in a press release.

The discovery of PFAS in drinking water is coming as the city’s public works department is already dealing with alarming damage to both of its wastewater treatment plants, which came to light last year.

Meanwhile, state environmental regulators have been criticized by the EPA for not hiring enough inspectors to ensure a healthy drinking water supply.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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