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Hundreds of US water systems contain high levels of ‘forever chemicals’. Where in Delaware?

Have you ever wondered what’s in your drinking water? Recently published data shows that you probably should.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency released data showing that nearly 300 of the nation’s public drinking water systems had levels of PFAS — often known as “forever chemicals” — that were higher than allowed under recently established limits.

Several water systems in Delaware, including those in Wilmington, Newark, Smyrna, Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, were included in the list.

The limits were set last month after more than three years of research and planning. Water supply systems will have to make changes in the coming years.

THE NEW LIMITS: Delaware water systems do not meet new PFAS standards. Is your water bothering you?

What are PFAS?

PFAS, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, is a class of chemicals that have been used in a wide variety of manufacturing processes over the years. They can take hundreds or thousands of years to break down, hence the nickname.

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When consumed, the chemicals can cause potentially harmful health effects and have been classified as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Elevated levels can lead to elevated cholesterol levels and liver problems, and pregnant people exposed to high levels are expected to be at higher risk for elevated blood pressure or preeclampsia. They can also result in lower birth weight in newborns.

THE ANALYSIS: Hundreds of drinking water systems more than meet the new PFAS standards. It can grow to thousands.

How can I tell if my water is affected?

USA Today has created a searchable map showing where levels higher than allowed have been found.

Although the city boundaries are color-coded on the map, keep in mind that certain cities, such as Wilmington, supply water to unincorporated areas (such as Talleyville or Brandywine Hundred).

One water system in Delaware has nearly five times the allowable level

Veolia Water, the largest private water service operator in the U.S., operates a Delaware system with nearly five times the allowable level of PFOA, one of the most studied “forever chemicals.”

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So what does it do to mitigate these test results?

According to Michael Bard, communications and community relations manager at Veolia North America, the company has been proactive in addressing PFAS in several states in recent years. Specifically in Delaware, the company is building a new treatment facility with 42 carbon filters.

The filters treat PFAS and reduce them to undetectable levels.

Bard said the facility is expected to be fully operational in early 2025, adding that the water supplier does not anticipate any issues in complying with EPA regulations in 2029 – the date by which water systems must meet the new standards.

Workers build a new PFAS treatment plant at Veolia North America's Stanton Water Treatment Plant near Newport on May 15, 2024.

Workers build a new PFAS treatment plant at Veolia North America’s Stanton Water Treatment Plant near Newport on May 15, 2024.

“Given the regulations, we know that many water systems will likely look to similar technologies,” Bard said. “We were very proactive in the purchasing process and in thinking about supply chains, the sourcing and security of those materials.”

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Costs associated with the PFAS treatment project will likely be recouped by increasing customer rates, Bard said.

“The cost of doing nothing will be much higher than the cost of doing something about this,” said Adam Lisberg, senior vice president of communications at Veolia’s municipal water department. “No one likes to pay more, but people want to know they can have confidence in their water.”

USA Today reporters Austin Fast and Cecilia Garzella contributed to this report. Delaware Online/The News Journal reporter Molly McVety also contributed.

Do you have a story tip or idea? Send it to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com. For all the latest news, follow her on X at @izzihughes_

This article originally appeared in Delaware News Journal: These Delaware water systems have higher than permitted levels of PFAS

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