Feds: Bucks, Montgomery counties tapped for PFAS exposure study

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WASHINGTON — The federal government announced Monday that Pennsylvania is one of seven states chosen for a study of the human health effects of exposures to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) through drinking water.

The Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry announced that it will partner with the nonprofit research group RTI International and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to assess PFAS exposures in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

PFAS — chemicals used in everything from fire-fighting foam to clothing and nonstick pans — have caused alarm in communities across the country. They have been linked to cancer and other serious health problems, and environmental and public health advocates want faster cleanup and strict guidelines for the allowable limits of the chemicals in drinking water.

Some studies in people have shown that exposure to certain PFAS might adversely impact growth of infants and children, lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk for some cancers, according to the CDC.

The study will collect information about a range of health impacts, but won’t be large enough to “effectively evaluate the relationship between PFAS exposure and cancer,” according to the government.

The federal agencies overseeing the study said they understand that “addressing cancer is a major concern for some community members” and officials are continuing to look at other ways to study links between PFAS and cancer.

PFAS exposure studies will also take place in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York and California.

These exposure studies were authorized in defense spending bills for fiscal 2018 and 2019. Lawmakers are pushing for additional PFAS reforms in the fiscal 2020 spending bill, but those efforts have encountered resistance from the White House.

“For years, we’ve done everything we can think of to draw attention to the ongoing contamination flowing off Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and into our region’s groundwater,” U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said.  “We know PFAS chemicals are linked to serious health consequences, and now we have a chance to learn more about how our constituents have been affected.”

“I share my constituents’ concerns regarding water contamination from PFAS chemicals, and I am glad the CDC is focusing its attention on southeast Pennsylvania by choosing Montgomery County as a site for this health study,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said in a statement.

He said he’s “hopeful the residents of Bucks and Montgomery Counties will soon have answers about any risks associated with PFAS exposure.”

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it would start testing water at more than 300 locations across the state for the presence of PFAS.

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