The Environmental Protection Agency published results of a July water sampling on its website last week, naming two “forever chemicals” above the minimum reporting level in the city of Newberry’s wells. Mayor Jordan Marlowe said residents do not need to be concerned, and that the city is following up with more testing.
The two chemicals EPA flagged are members of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) group, whose effects are undetermined, and which earned the moniker “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. Marlowe said the city tests its water daily and of the constant testing, the EPA only flagged three samples. He said the city will continue testing its water, but the samples above minimum reporting level appear to be outliers.
“We have a whole lot of work, the EPA has a whole lot of work to do before they start getting people worried and stressed out about these kinds of things,” Marlowe said in a phone interview.
According to the EPA, perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) is present in the environment and consumer products, including surface water, wastewater, drinking water, dust and carpets, according to the EPA.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is part of a group of chemicals once used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That chemical group has been found in bodies of water and in land and water animals.
Marlowe said the EPA has done a poor job communicating with Newberry about contaminants, leaving city officials to find out about the test results from the website publication, instead of notifying them directly. He said Newberry can only act to address substances the EPA regulates, and the government agency has only presented PFAS chemicals to the city as something still being researched to determine safe amounts.
In March, the EPA proposed to establish to establish legally enforceable levels for six PFAS chemicals, including both PFOA and PFBS. The proposal asserts that four of the six, including PFBS, could have adverse effects through oral consumption.
The Newberry water samples in question were collected on July 12 from “side of tank” in Well #4 and #5. The minimum reporting level (MRL) of each substance is measured in micrograms per liter (µg/L) of water. PFBS’s MRP is 0.003 µg/L, and two flagged samples recorded levels at 0.0041 and 0.0044 µg/L.
PFOA has an MRP of 0.004 µg/L, and one Newberry sample from the same day recorded levels at 0.0048 µg/L.
Marlowe said these levels barely reach the minimum reporting level, and the EPA is still trying to finalize what levels are enough to raise concern. The mayor said Newberry residents do not need to be worried, and do not need to start thinking about boil orders.
Newberry continues to send its daily and weekly water samples to EPA.
“If this was a substance that was truly dangerous, and [that EPA] were really concerned about, then we would have known in July,” Marlowe said. “They would have notified us within 24 hours… The timing itself should help you know that the EPA is not worried about this. Experts in the business aren’t worried about this, but it sure sounds scary when someone says hey, there’s a chemical substance in your water, Newberry.”