EMMAUS, Pa. - From the Lehigh Valley to Bucks County, the toxic chemicals PFAS are a continuing problem in drinking water.
Pennsylvania is set to put enforceable max contamination levels in place. However, some environmental groups say the state's plan is falling short in protecting people's health.
A petition for Pennsylvania's DEP from 28 statewide organizations are calling for stricter regulations of the forever chemicals known as PFAS and PFOAS.
"PFAS are called forever chemicals and that's because they don't break down in the environment," said Tracy Carluccio via a bullhorn outside the agency's Harrisburg headquarters.
Carluccio, the Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, was part of a handful of environmental groups gathered there.
"It's taken years to get here. It's been an excruciatingly slow process to get where we are today," she said.
The DEP is wrapping up a two-month public comment period on regulating the forever chemicals in public water systems. It's part of Gov. Tom Wolf's PFAS Action Team put in place in 2018 to fight against the forever chemicals.
The compounds never break down and stem in large part from firefighting foam. They're linked to a variety of health issues, including cancer.
Late last year, the Environmental Quality Board recommended 14 parts per trillion for PFAS, and 18 for PFOAS.
Last fall the borough of Emmaus's water was found to have 111 ppt and Bucks County recently sued a host of PFAS manufacturers for knowingly contaminating public water ways. That case is now in federal court.
"If you're just addressing PFOS and PFOAS, you are sort of tackling the tip of a big toxic iceberg," said clean water advocate Stephanie Wein.
Wein, of PennEnvironment, says at least six other similar toxic chemicals have been found throughout the state. They want those regulated and tested too, as well as private wells.
The DEP says it is still early in the process, and things could change but added that those other chemicals will not be added, at least for now. They say they don't have the toxicologists or data to support it.
For DEP to consider regulating additional PFAS chemicals in the future, the agency would need to meet all required elements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and Regulatory Review Act, including sufficient occurrence data to demonstrate prevalence of additional chemicals, risk assessment and toxicology data to determine the possible health impacts, data on technical limitations and treatability, and costs and benefits.
However, EPA is beginning a similar effort to regulate PFAS chemicals that could include additional PFAS chemicals, said a DEP spokesman.
They say they don't have jurisdiction over private wells.
Carluccio and crew are pushing for 1ppt and no more than 6 parts per trillion.
"Right now, we don't have safe water. People are drinking water that could harm their health," Carluccio said.
If the rulemaking is finalized as proposed, water systems that serve populations greater than 350 people would have to begin monitoring for PFAS and PFOAS no later than January 1, 2024; systems serving fewer than 350 people would begin monitoring no later than January 1, 2025.
Follow-up, investigative and corrective actions would be triggered as soon as an MCL is exceeded. We would expect all corrective actions to be taken in a timely fashion. If things are delayed, we would escalate enforcement as needed, said a DEP spokesman.