21 September 2023- Following a joint United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) study revealing PFAS in surface water across the state, DEP is continuing to take action to address these forever chemicals – ramping up efforts across Pennsylvania to monitor water resources and using the study to develop standards for surface water.
“There is still a great deal to learn about these dangerous ‘forever chemicals’. Pennsylvania has been a proactive leader in addressing issues related to this emerging contaminant particularly when it comes to drinking water and public safety. This joint venture produced the first study of its kind in the nation, and associates PFAS in surface waters across a state with upstream activities that might be sources of the contaminant. This study has expanded our understanding, and will assist in determining what steps need to be taken in addressing issues associated with this emerging contaminant,” said Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Rich Negrin. “Our findings have already helped, and will continue to help guide DEP’s actions regarding where to focus resources on identifying, tracking, and addressing potential sources of PFAS contamination.”
The DEP and USGS report publishes the findings of a 2019 survey studying the prevalence and distribution of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) across surface waters in Pennsylvania. The publication summarized the results from 161 streams across the Keystone State and found 76 percent of 161 streams contained at least one type of PFAS.
Based on the study’s results, DEP updated its surface water monitoring strategy for PFAS and is currently taking more frequent samples in areas of concern. Targeted areas include locations where elevated PFAS concentrations were found in 2019 (PFAS Surface Water Discrete and Passive Samples: 2019 (state.pa.us)) as well as locations further upstream within the same watersheds. This monitoring will help DEP develop surface water quality standards for PFAS that will allow DEP to limit PFAS discharges to surface waters through industrial discharge permits.
DEP is also planning to begin a monitoring program that would require some wastewater treatment plants to monitor for PFAS discharges. This will help DEP track where PFAS chemicals may be entering Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams through wastewater treatment plant discharges, which may include wastewater discharges from industrial entities known or suspected to discharge PFAS in their waste streams.
One fish consumption advisory for Neshaminy Creek was issued as a result of the study and DEP will continue to collect additional fish tissue samples and update fish consumption advisories as needed.
Using the information that DEP has been collecting, DEP has taken action to protect drinking water in the state by adopting maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) in January 2023 for certain PFAS for drinking water across the state. With this rule, Pennsylvania moved ahead of the EPA in protecting drinking water and joined a small group of states that set regulatory limits for select PFAS in drinking water. This rule also includes requirements for monitoring and reporting, public notification, consumer confidence reports, and use of best available treatment technologies and analytical requirements. The MCLs are effective immediately but most systems will conduct initial monitoring in 2024 and 2025. DEP continues to coordinate across departments and agencies to address sources and exposure pathways of PFAS to protect human health and the environment.
PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications, from food packaging and non-stick cookware, to fire-fighting foams and materials that are resistant to water grease or stains. Decades of widespread use of products containing PFAS has resulted in elevated levels of environmental pollution and exposure in some areas of the state.