PFAS Investigation Program

Updated 2022

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a growing list of 11,000+ chemicals found in products like nonstick pans, food packaging, and firefighting foam used on military bases and at commercial airports. PFAS are known as a legacy chemical, meaning they don’t easily break down, and can persist in our bodies and in the environment for generations. As a result of their pervasiveness, more than 95 percent of the U.S. population has PFAS in their bodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worse, there is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects on your immune system, liver, thyroid, birth defects and could cause cancer. The full extent of the risks and exposure levels from PFAS is still being studied.

PFAS Chemicals in Antietam Creek

Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls, became concerned that fish caught from our local streams might have elevated levels of these toxic chemicals found in products many of us use every day. These PFAS chemicals could be harmful not only to the aquatic ecosystem, but the families who consume fish caught in our watershed.

PFAS infographic

To address this pollutant, Brent works with USGS fish biologists to collect small-range fish species, which provide a food source for aquatic and terrestrial species and for humans as well, and testing them for toxic chemicals. Brent will also be conducting a survey of river participants on their fishing habits and if they consume fish from the Opequon. The results of the survey and fish tissue tests will be used to determine whether PRKN should advocate for fish consumption advisories to inform the public of the risks of eating fish caught in the Upper Potomac watershed.

PRKN has been an active leader advocating for State agencies to develop a plan that assess the impacts of PFAS in drinking water, wastewater discharges, biosolids that are land applied, and fish consumption advisories. Our sampling has shown evidence of significant PFAS levels in wastewater, even in rural non-industrial areas. We are investigating stormwater from farm fields with land applied biosolids and working closely with USGS biologists as they analyze fish samples for PFAS. 

In early 2022, PRKN worked with a coalition of organizations to pass legislation in Maryland to ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foams, ban the sale of rugs and carpets with PFAS and stop the use of food packaging with PFAS chemicals. The George “Walter” Taylor Act not only was a great start to stopping the cycle of PFAS impacting us and our environment, but the act also banned the “family” of 11,000 PFAS chemicals in those products instead of just a few specific ones. But more work needs to be done! Stay tuned for how you can help in the Maryland and Virginia legislative session in 2023 as PRKN will be advocating for more resources to assess and determine more effective strategies to stop PFAS from polluting our rivers, our food and our families.

For more information on PFAS explore the resources below: