SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Missouri could begin testing more drinking water for dangerous chemicals.
A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will expand safety efforts for many rural communities. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources will test a group of chemicals called PFAS.
The agency has already tested some drinking water in some of the state’s larger areas, but now it will test several other systems across the state to see if these chemicals are in your drinking water.
The group of chemicals is sometimes referred to as “permanent chemicals”. They have been used in manufacturing since the 1940s.
“It can be found in hydrophobic fire-extinguishing foam to put out aircraft fires, and it can only be found in various industrial processes,” said Eric Medlock of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
The use of chemicals has contaminated some drinking water across the country, which could ultimately be harmful to humans.
“There are studies that show that some of them can be cancer causing kidney problems, prostate problems, other types of fertility problems and that kind of thing,” Medlock said.
Under the grant, DNR will be able to test more communities for PFAS. EPA laws expand testing from communities of 10,000 or more to currently 3,300 or more.
The Missouri DNR was tested for PFAS between 2013 and 2015, but only in areas serving more than 10,000 people. Fortunately, the researchers didn’t discover anything.
“So we knew from that study that it wasn’t going to be a widespread issue here in Missouri,” Medlock said. “But we’ve run additional testing through Missouri University of Science and Technology to find out some potential sites that might contain PFCs.”
As part of the Missouri S&T collaborative study, Medlock said, 15 water systems were selected for sampling. The systems were in potential industrial zones. Medlock said the study only showed a minimal amount of PFAS was present in the selected water systems. He said the study showed it was not a widespread issue.
The department also conducted another study with the US Department of Defense, which found high levels of PFAS contamination in an industrial park in the city of Farmington.
“Some of that shaft deviated from the site and impacted a nearby industrial well, for a nearby system,” Medlock said. “But they were lucky and were able to give up their well and could actually call Farmington.”
Medlock said there are currently no water systems in Missouri that show signs of PFAS contamination above the level of health advisories. Medlock said the new grant will help expand testing to include smaller communities.
“It will help small communities see what’s out there,” he said.
Other water organizations across the Ozarks and the state say additional funding is always welcome.
“Tests are expensive,” said Howard Baker of the Missouri Rural Water Association. “So any time we can get this additional funding to make that happen, it benefits everyone.”
“Everyone in this business is always cash-strapped,” said Timothy Smith of James River Basin Partnership. “Anyone’s system is needed more than you have to deal with. Especially for small communities.”
Ultimately, various organizations, including DNR, say increased testing will determine if there is a PFAS problem in any rural areas.
“Because it’s not something that’s already routinely tested, we have no idea if it’s a problem,” Becker said. “So testing is the only way we’ll find out.”
“The more data we have about the water we use, the better off we are,” Smith said. “The better off we are, the more we know what to do with it.”
Medlock said he’s confident it’s not a widespread problem, but said DNR will now also be able to check for a higher range of chemicals.
“So we know there will be more potential analyzes and more discoveries,” he said. The detection limits were also slightly reduced to two parts per trillion. And a lot of cases are smaller. So it wouldn’t be surprising for us to find discoveries in Missouri. But as I said, we remain confident that there is no widespread contamination here in Missouri, due to the level of health advisory.”
Under the EPA’s current plan to address PFAS pollution, all large drinking water systems will be tested for chemicals between 2023 and 2025. The agency is also expected to place restrictions on PFAS in drinking water, and require chemical monitoring. Currently, PFAS are unregulated pollutants.
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