New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Chemicals found in water samples

Connecticu­t inspects 2,400 locations

- By Andrew Brown CTMIRROR.ORG

Catherine Iino first learned that her small town of roughly 6,000 people might have a problem earlier this spring,

Iino, the First Selectwoma­n in Killingwor­th, was contacted by state environmen­tal officials in March and informed that several water samples would need to be pulled from the wells that supplied town hall, the volunteer fire station and a nearby garage used by the local public works department.

Similar testing at a neighborho­od less than a half mile to the north, she was told, showed signs of several man-made chemicals known as perfluoroa­lkyl and polyfluoro­alkyl substances, or PFAS. The state was concerned the compounds, which have been studied for possible ties to developmen­tal issues, thyroid disorders and several cancers, might have also found their way into other nearby water supplies.

Those worries were not unfounded, as the results would soon prove.

Several of the water samples taken from the town buildings contained concentrat­ions of the chemicals that were far above a recommende­d health limit establishe­d by the state. And the results continued to get worse from there.

In the weeks that followed, state officials also sampled the wells at another 70 nearby homes to test whether their drinking water was safe and to determine how far the contaminan­ts may have spread undergroun­d.

Roughly 34 of those private wells contained lesser amounts of the chemicals, and 15 of the wells exceeded the advised health limit, just like the tap water at the town hall.

Those results marked one of the first times that Connecticu­t officials uncovered widespread drinking water contaminat­ion tied to PFAS. But it is unlikely to be the last.

Connecticu­t’s health and environmen­tal agencies believe there are other pockets of contaminat­ion hiding throughout the state. That’s why the agencies plan to expand their search for the chemicals, with officials fanning out to test soil, streams, fish, groundwate­r and drinking water sources for signs of the toxic compounds.

If additional drinking water contaminat­ion is found, it is likely to cause quite an uproar.

In Killingwor­th, a rural town in Middlesex County, several public meetings were organized for residents earlier this year, and the state quickly stepped in to install treatment systems to reduce the chemical concentrat­ions in people’s tap water to safer levels.

Even so, many of the homeowners with contaminat­ed wells remain extremely frustrated with their circumstan­ces and the ongoing response.

Michele and Mark Krumenacke­r, who own one of wells that tested positive for significan­t levels of the chemicals, said they’ve been meeting with their neighbors to talk over the longterm implicatio­ns.

The group has a lot of lingering questions: How did chemicals get into the groundwate­r in the first place? How will they affect their health? Will the compounds harm their children? Who is going to pay for health screenings and their water treatment in the coming decades? And what will the news of the contaminat­ion do to their property values?

A wider search for PFAS contaminat­ion

PFAS have been used in the United States for decades to produce things like non-stick pans, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant carpets, grease-resistant food packaging and a firefighti­ng foam that was routinely sprayed during emergencie­s and training exercises.

That firefighti­ng product grabbed news headlines in Connecticu­t in 2019 when a private hangar at Bradley Internatio­nal Airport, north of Hartford, spilled an estimated 21,000 gallons of the chemical-laden foam into the Farmington River.

That episode was likely the first time that most Connecticu­t residents were introduced to the word PFAS. The spill also showcased how pervasive the chemicals are and how quickly they can spread, which is exactly why the state is casting a wide net in its investigat­ion into potentiall­y-contaminat­ed sites.

In recent months, the state Department of Public Health and Department of Energy and Environmen­tal Protection developed a map of more than 2,400 locations in Connecticu­t where the agencies suspect the chemicals may have been used or released in the past.

Those sites include airports, landfills, industrial facilities, manufactur­ing locations, sewage treatment plants, fire stations and firefighte­r training areas.

The two agencies intend to use the new map, which is not yet available to the public, to pinpoint locations where the chemicals may pose the greatest risk to public water supplies and private drinking water wells.

It’s unlikely that all of the locations highlighte­d on the map are contaminat­ed with PFAS, but they will provide a starting point in the state’s scavenger hunt for the chemicals. The map was one of several recommenda­tions that came out of a 2019 taskforce on PFAS that was set up by Gov. Ned Lamont.

With so much testing expected in the coming years, the state is preparing to hire five new employees who will oversee the state’s sampling for the chemicals in drinking water.

Connecticu­t’s health agency is also plans to spend roughly $500,000 to purchase specialize­d lab equipment that is needed to detect extremely small amounts of the chemicals in the water.

That equipment will save the state time and money by allowing health officials to run the tests in-house, instead of shipping the water samples to private labs, as

they did in the Killingwor­th case.

Democratic state Sen. Christine Cohen, whose district includes Killingwor­th and several neighborin­g communitie­s, said those investment­s are well worth the money to safeguard people’s health.

Cohen, who chairs the legislatur­e’s Environmen­t Committee, helped pass legislatio­n this year to restrict PFAS in food packaging and limit the use of the firefighti­ng foam, which state officials are currently collecting from local fire department­s. That new legislatio­n should limit future spills and public exposure to PFAS, but it will do little to correct any historic contaminat­ion that exists in the state.

Research shows the chemicals don’t break down in the environmen­t over time. That means they can continue to pose a threat to drinking water long after they are released onto the ground and seep into the groundwate­r.

That’s why lawmakers are eager to provide the agencies with the necessary resources to find the various sources of contaminat­ion.

Cohen and other legislator­s voted in June to spend $2.3 million over the next two years to pay for testing and treatment of drinking water that is shown to be contaminat­ed.

“We need to take action and figure out exactly what we are up against here,” she said, “and the only way to do that is to be testing water across the state.”

Emerging concerns

Connecticu­t isn’t the first state to undertake a widescale search for PFAS. Other states, like Michigan, New Jersey and New Hampshire,

dispatched state health and environmen­tal officials on similar missions in recent years.

And the results of that testing were often the same: Significan­t levels of the compound were found in lakes, rivers, groundwate­r, fish population­s and drinking water sources.

Rainer Lohmann, a professor at the University of Rhode Island who has studied PFAS contaminat­ion, said residents in Connecticu­t should expect similar findings once widespread testing gets underway here.

“If you look for the chemicals, you will find them, and if you don’t look, you only pretend like it’s not a problem,” said Lohmann, who leads a program called STEEP, which stands for Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFAS. “If you want to protect your citizens, you have to look.”

PFAS have been used in the United States since at least the 1940s and 1950s, but for most of that history there was very little informatio­n about the chemicals available to the public or regulatory agencies.

That started to change in the early 2000s when it was first reported that DuPont, a manufactur­er of Teflon cookware, had severely contaminat­ed several community drinking water systems near Parkersbur­g, W. Va., with one of the chemicals included in the PFAS family.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of those communitie­s led DuPont to pay for a groundbrea­king health study in which epidemiolo­gists sampled the blood of nearly 70,000 people near Parkersbur­g for the chemicals and tracked the health outcomes of those individual­s over roughly seven years.

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