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Missouri to use EPA grant to test more drinking water for a group of ‘ forever chemicals’

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 9:30 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2021 at 9:47 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri could start testing more drinking water for dangerous chemicals.

A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency would expand the safety efforts to many rural communities. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources will test for 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 many more systems across the state to see if these chemicals are in your drinking water.

The group of chemicals is sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” They have been used in manufacturing since the 1940′s.

”It can be found in aqueous firefighting foam to put out airplane fires, it can be found in just different industrial processes,” said Erick Medlock with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The use of the chemicals has contaminated some drinking water across the country, which ultimately can be harmful to humans.

”There are studies that show that some of these can be cancer-causing issues with kidneys, prostate, other types of fertility issues and that type of thing,” Medlock said.

Under the grant, DNR will be able to test more communities for PFAS. EPA regulation is expanding testing from communities of 10,000 or more to now 3,300 or more.

The Missouri DNR tested for PFAS between 2013 and 2015, but only in areas serving more than 10,000 people. Fortunately, researchers did not detect any.

“So we knew through that study that it was not going to be a widespread issue here in Missouri,” Medlock said. “But we did additional testing through the University of Missouri Science and Technology to see of some potential sites that might have had perfluorinated compounds.”

Medlock said under the Missouri S&T collaborative study, 15 water systems were selected to sample. The systems were in potentially industrial areas. Medlock said that the study only showed a minimal presence of PFAS in those selected water systems. He said the study showed it was not a widespread issue.

The department also conducted another study along with the U.S. Department of Defense, which found high levels of PFAS contamination at an industrial park in the city of Farmington.

“Some of that plume had gone off-site and affected a nearby industrial well, for a nearby system,” Medlock said. “But they were fortunate and were able to abandon their well and actually could connect to the city of Farmington’s.”

Medlock said currently there are no water systems in Missouri that show signs of PFAS contamination above the health advisory level. Medlock said the new grant will help expand testing to smaller communities, however.

”It will help the smaller communities to just know what is there,” he said.

Other water organizations across the Ozarks and the state say extra funding is always welcome.

”The testing is expensive,” said Howard Baker with the Missouri Rural Water Association. “So anytime that we can get that extra funding to have that happen, it benefits everybody.”

”Everybody in this business is always strapped for cash,” said Timothy Smith with the James River Basin Partnership. “There’s more need for anybody’s system than you have to deal with. And particularly for smaller communities.”

Ultimately the various organizations, including DNR, say the increased testing will determine if there is a PFAS problem in any rural areas.

”Since it’s not something that’s already routinely tested, we have no idea if it’s an issue,” Baker said. “So testing is the only way we’re going to find out.”

”The more data we have for the water we use, the better off we are,” Smith said. “The better off we are, the more we know what we have to do with it.”

Medlock said he is confident it is not a widespread issue, but said DNR will now also be able to check for a higher variety of the chemicals.

“So we know there will be more analytes possibly and more detections,” he said. “And the detection limits have also been reduced quite a bit down to two parts per trillion. And in a lot of cases, they are even smaller. So it won’t be surprising to us that we will find detections in Missouri. But like I said, we still are confident that there’s not widespread contamination here in Missouri, because of the health advisory level.”

Under the EPA’s current plan to tackle PFAS contamination, all large drinking water systems will be tested for the chemicals between 2023 and 2025. The agency is also expected to set limits on PFAS in drinking water, and require monitoring for the chemicals. Currently, PFAS are unregulated contaminants.

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