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Hampstead, Westminster have highest levels of PFAS chemicals in surveyed drinking water, state environment department says

After the Maryland Department of Environment sampled 130 drinking water treatment plants in the state, it found Westminster and Hampstead were the only locations to have levels of synthetic chemicals known as PFAS above an advisory level.

MDE released a report Thursday that outlined its efforts to find the man-made chemical PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl, in Maryland’s public drinking water systems that are used by nearly 4.3 million people, about 70% of Maryland’s population.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has a Lifetime Health Advisory Level, or a safe range of PFAS, as 70 parts per trillion. However, MDE reported Hampstead’s PFOA or PFOS, subgroups of PFAS, were 240.37 parts per trillion in a Nov. 20 sampling. Westminster’s levels were 154.96 parts per trillion.

MDE’s report stated the Carroll municipalities had the “highest measured levels of PFOA and PFOS.” Jay Apperson, a spokesperson for MDE, said they were the only two drinking water treatment plants that tested above the advisory level.

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The two municipalities were notified of the high levels late last year and wells with high levels of the chemicals have since been shut off. Residents in those areas were also notified and are no longer affected.

“It is important to note that while there is an EPA health advisory level, there are currently no federal, enforceable regulatory drinking water standards for PFAS,” Apperson said in an email. “Both municipalities have been very cooperative, and this is a good example of responding to reduce risk exposure when sampling results above the health advisory level are found.”

He said MDE is looking into the sources of contamination, specifically firefighting foam, as a potential source.

“However, we have not confirmed that as the source in either of the municipalities’ water systems,” he added.

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The municipalities were tasked with hiring an engineer and creating an action plan to combat the chemicals. Tammi Ledley, Hampstead’s town manager, said they were supposed to have a plan by June 30 and had to ask for an extension. They are still determining “which way to move forward,” she said.

“There are systems like carbon filters, which would require a pump house for two wells,” Ledley said as one of the options.

Hampstead hired an engineer to discuss potential systems and next steps, but still needs to hire an engineer to implement any plans, she said.

A new pump would be “extremely expensive” but the town is fortunate to have extra water allocation systems they can use until then, Ledley said.

The City of Westminster hired an engineering firm, GHD, for $75,000 to help with its water distribution systems. David Deutsch, the interim city administrator, said since the well with the PFAS has been shut off, “there’s no impact on the rest of the system.” However, he said that could potentially change if, for instance, a drought were to occur.

The city has joined a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer 3M.

“As I understand it, 3M manufactured the firefighting foam, which is apparently the contaminant,” Deutsch said.

Joining the lawsuit will not be a cost to the city, he said.

“3M currently is defending lawsuits concerning various PFAS-related products and chemistries,” according to 3M’s website. “3M acted responsibly with our products containing PFAS, and we will vigorously defend our record of environmental stewardship. The weight of scientific evidence over decades of research does not show that PFOA or PFOS causes harm in people at current or past levels.”

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