SEABROOK – A recent study showed evidence of dangerous substances found in drinking water in Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., causing for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC Water) to announce that its plans to be proactive in solving the problem.
The water utility company announced on Jan. 24 that it will now start testing for its water for the presence of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, which are toxic fluorinated chemicals, at its Potomac and Patuxent Water Filtration Plants. WSSC Water will be conducting these tests on the two plants, going above and beyond federal and state requirements, to assure the 1.8 million residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that the water is safe.
“WSSC Water is safe, and customers should not think twice about the safety of their drinking water,” General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid said. “Our top priority is public health and safety, and this proactive measure will provide peace of mind to our customers and ensure our water continues to meet all strict federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.”
The response comes after a study conducted by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental organization, concluded that drinking water in the metropolitan region had PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS does not break down after released into the environment and can build up in the blood and organs.
EWG tested a single sample from each water system in the United States between May and December of 2019. Prince George’s County ranked with the 12th highest PFAS levels in the study, containing 17.8 parts per trillion, with the District ranked 11th with 21.7 parts per trillion. While WSSC Water’s results are 70 parts per trillion below the threshold recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to EWG, one part per trillion is where water plants should be for safety reasons.
“The results confirm that the number of Americans exposed to PFAS from contaminated tap water has been dramatically underestimated by previous studies, both from the Environmental Protection Agency and EWG’s own research,” the report said.
PFAS are also man-made chemicals developed in the 1940s that are fire, oil, grease, water, and stain-resistant, according to WSSC Water. PFAS is also found in several consumer and industrial products, including non-stick cookware, stain repellant, dental floss, cleaning products, and cosmetics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to PFAS can be linked to several health problems, including growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and damage to one’s liver. The EPA added that exposure could also lead to excessive cholesterol levels, ulcerative colitis thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancer, and problems in pregnancies for women.
While there are no nationwide limits as to how much PFAS chemicals are found, WSSC Water said it would not wait for recommendations to be enacted to have clean water.
Reid said that in the 102-year history of the utility company, WSSC Water has not had a drinking water quality violation and would like the trend to continue into the 2020s. The utility company stated that it conducted “extensive water quality testing” for six PFAS compounds from July 2013 through March 2014 and again from April 2015 through October 2017. Its results showed that its water was below the EPA detection limits.
“As champions for clean water, we strongly encourage continued federal and state action to clean up PFAS-contaminated sites to prevent these chemicals from entering drinking water supplies,” Reid said. “We also stand ready to implement any additional robust testing measures should the EPA require water utilities to test for the presence of these compounds.”