The contamination is from a class of chemicals referred to as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The chemicals have gotten into water supplies in hundreds of locations across the country and are associated with a range of cancers and serious illnesses in humans, even if they’ve been exposed to very small amounts.
The state is planning to start a thorough round of testing in early 2019. So far, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has identified at least 20 contamination sites in the state, including two near Pittsburgh that were added to the state’s list in the past few weeks. The local sites are the Pittsburgh Air National Guard in Moon Township and Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station in Coraopolis; the state guard unit is stationed at the federal reserve station and both use the international airport’s property.
About 98 percent of Americans already have trace amounts of these chemicals in their blood, but the worst contamination has been found near military bases, airports and factories that used two of the most ubiquitous and dangerous strains of the chemical family — PFOS and PFOA.
Those two chemicals, which have been discontinued in the United States since 2015, were used in firefighting foam, often tested on military bases, and hundreds of other consumer products for the primary purpose of repelling water and oil. The most common brand names associated with these chemicals are Teflon and Scotchgard, which started using PFOS and PFOA in the 1940s.
Everyone should avoid these chemicals, said Tracy Carluccio, the deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. But she said the most urgent need is to figure out how much of the state’s drinking water has been contaminated.
“The exposure to drinking water dwarfs all other pathways to exposure,” she said. “If you don’t address drinking water and only address consumer products, you are not going to eliminate the risk of disease.”