PFAS — What Is It and How You Can Help?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been around since the 1940s. PFAS has been used various products like teflon cookware, paper cartons, waterproof clothing and in firefighting foam used primarily on airplanes. Similar to other chemicals like PCB, PFOS does not break down and remains in the environment and in our bodies. PFOS can bioaccumulate, which means it builds up in our system. 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 PFOS is still being studied. 

But why here in the Martinsburg area? In 2016, the EPA issued a health advisory for PFOS to all public water systems. The Big Springs water treatment plant that serves the Martinsburg area showed higher than the EPA advisory levels of PFOS. The Big Springs water system was taken offline, but has since been upgraded to produce drinking water that meet all EPA health advisories. The source of the contamination was from decades of firefighting training at the 167th Air Wing National Guard Base just south of Martinsburg. The karst geology of the area allowed the movement of the PFOS chemical from the surface into the Big Springs water source. 

Although the public drinking water for the Martinsburg area meets EPA standards, a big question remains. What was the exposure of PFOS on the communities and what are the health implications? That is why a community exposure assessment is being conducted not only here in Martinsburg, but across the country where similar exposures to PFOS exist. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have launched a PFAS Exposure Assessment in West Virginia and have asked me to participate.

CDC and ATSDR are hosting public community informational meeting near Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base, Berkeley County, WV, where scientists will provide information the PFAS exposure assessment and testing to be conducted.

Details about the meeting:

 When: July 24, 2019

5:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m.

Where: Comfort Inn Aikens Center – Berkeley Room

1872 Edwin Miller Boulevard

Martinsburg, WV, 25404

Local folks can learn about how they can participate in sample collection for a six week period following the information session. The Assessment will include residents who live in areas south of the Big Springs treatment plant and the City of Martinsburg residents who are connected to the municipal water supply and live west of Interstate 81 (I-81) or in the Amber Woods housing complex (east of I-81). This initial sampling will be important to CDC and ATSDR to gain a basis for understanding the gravity of the problem in Berkeley County near the Air National Guard Base.

More information:

Final Berkeley County WV Site


Infographic 1

PFAS Exposure Assessment 1-8 steps (1)

PFAS EA Information to Protect Our Community

PFAS EA Clarification

Martinsburg Information Session Flyer