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Some Thurmont wells show more PFAS from start of year, further surpassing EPA limits

Frederick News-Post - 5/30/2024

Three of Thurmont’s wells showed notably higher levels of PFAS contamination during tests in May compared to the start of the year, and all of the town’s wells still exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new enforceable limit on the chemicals.

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a group of compounds that are difficult to break down in the environment and the human body. They are also referred to as “forever chemicals” and are found in consumer products like non-stick cookware.

High exposure to PFAS can lead to various health issues, such as increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, and changes in liver enzymes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

PFOA and PFOS are two compounds in the PFAS family, on which the EPA has placed a maximum contamination limit of 4 parts per trillion, or ppt, in drinking water. The agency officially announced finalized limits on six PFAS compounds in April.

Wells 3, 4 and 9 in Thurmont previously measured below 10 ppt for both PFOA in PFOS when tested in January. In May, 14.7 ppt of PFOA and 11.9 ppt of PFOS were detected in those same wells. Results for these wells were presented as one number in the town’s reports.

PFAS levels in Well 7 saw a slight rise in PFOA and little change in PFOS from January to May.

Well 8, which the town has taken offline due to PFAS contamination, saw a rise in PFOA contamination from 9.23 ppt to 14 ppt — but there was also a dramatic drop in PFOS levels from 37.8 ppt to 10.6 ppt.

PFOA in Thurmont wells

PFOS in Thurmont wells

Wells 3, 4 and 9 are in a small cluster toward the southern area of the town, according to Frederick County mapping data. Well 7 and well 8 are by the northeast boundary.

Under the EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, public water systems have until 2027 to complete the agency’s initial monitoring requirements.

They have until 2029 to mitigate PFAS contamination if test results show levels above the EPA’s limits.

Mayor John Kinnaird said in an interview that PFAS detection changing from quarter to quarter as shown by the test results is “an indication of the contamination of the groundwater as it moves through our area.”

Other municipalities, including Myersville, Middletown and Mount Airy, have also seen levels of PFOA and PFOS above the EPA’s limit.

Kinnaird said the town is still designing a filtration system to be put in each well treatment facility to treat the water for PFAS as it comes out of the ground.

He said the system will eventually be sent to the Maryland Department of the Environment for approval.

Kinnaird also said well 8 will stay offline unless there is a dire need for more water.

He said the state hasn’t released any guidelines about a specific PFAS detection level that would mean a well would have to go offline. The town initially took well 8 offline because the state recommended it.

If the state releases guidelines, the town will adjust based on those recommendations.

He said well 8 would stay offline unless another well reached a very high level of PFAS contamination and had to be put offline instead. He said he is unsure what the level determining a well to go offline would be.

In October 2022, the department tested for PFAS in Thurmont’s wells, which showed elevated concentrations of PFOA and PFOS, and recommended the town take affected wells offline, find alternative drinking water sources or install equipment to remove PFAS.

Since then, Thurmont has joined multidistrict federal litigation against PFAS manufacturers and has received state funds for PFAS remediation.

The town’s recently approved fiscal year 2025 operating budget allocated about $300,000 to a capital reserve to be used for future PFAS-related remediation.

“We’re working diligently to get this enacted,” Kinnaird said. “We already have funding in hand for one phase of it, so as soon as we get the approvals, we’ll move forward with the implementation of the plan.”

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