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High levels of man-made chemicals detected in Hampstead, Westminster drinking water

Hampstead residents were notified earlier this month that high levels of man-made chemicals were detected in the town’s drinking water.

The Maryland Department of the Environment, or MDE, tested for PFAS substances, or polyfluoroalkyl, man-made chemicals, in November. There was an “exceedance of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Lifetime Health Advisory Level” for the PFAS subgroups PFOS and PFOA in one of the 15 drinking water wells. It was taken out of service after MDE’s results.

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The Lifetime Health Advisory Level is 70 parts per trillion, according to the notice. However, the PFOS and PFOA total concentration were 249.3 parts per trillion on Nov. 4. A Nov. 20 sampling and analyses follow-up showed the total concentration was 240.37 parts per trillion.

The town’s notice stated it was not an emergency and residents did not have to do anything differently.

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“They don’t have to boil their water or do anything like that,” Tammi Ledley, the town manager, told the Times.

She said the town is working with an engineer to develop an action plan and the well will not be “back online” until the action plan is set.

Ledley said a timeline has not yet been set but the money for the action will likely be included in the fiscal 2022 budget which is expected to be approved at the June meeting of the Town Council.

The town manager said high levels of the chemical are unusual and that it could have been due to the firefighter training facility. They used a foam they have not used in decades, she said, and an investigation will determine the specifics.

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Mayor Chris Nevin said it’s the first time that he’s aware the metrics have been that high.

“Like everything else, we’ll deal with it,” he said.

Jay Apperson, deputy director for MDE’s communications office, said the discovery of the PFOA and PFOS levels were part of an initiative MDE is doing to sample public water systems across the state.

“That initiative is part of a broader effort to better understand where PFAS is found in Maryland and where it presents risks so that action can be taken to reduce unacceptable risks,” he said in an email. “After levels were found at one of Hampstead’s water treatment plants in excess of EPA’s health advisory, MDE promptly asked the town to take that treatment plant offline, which it did.”

It also asked the town to issue the public notice, to keep the plant offline until a proper treatment plan is in place and to do additional sampling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states PFAS are used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. PFOS and PFOA are concerning because they do not break down in the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency website stated studies indicate PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals.

“MDE is putting a priority on the implementation of a science-based, comprehensive plan for understanding, communicating and managing PFAS risk,” Apperson said.

He added MDE’s strategy for the past two years has been to investigate PFAS in drinking water, oysters and fish tissue “to identify and reduce any site-specific unacceptable risks and to help MDE to better understand where regulatory actions may be needed to reduce releases of these materials into the environment.”

They will have sampled 137 public water treatment systems for PFAS compounds by the end of February, Apperson said.

Westminster also notified its residents in November after testing results revealed PFOS and PFAS levels were detected at 154.96 parts per trillion in one of its 10 drinking water wells. Like Hampstead, the Westminster notice said the incident was not an emergency or immediate risk. One of Westminster’s wells was shut off.

“Earlier this month, the Mayor and Common Council approved a contract with an engineering firm to assist the city,” Barbara Matthews, the city administrator, said in an email.

A document from Westminster’s Common Council’s Dec. 31 meeting stated that well No. 8, the well shut off after the PFAS testing, is a major component of the city’s water distribution system, especially during the summer.

The document also states the contract with the firm, GHD, was approved for $75,500.

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