28 South 4th Street, Emmaus, PA 18049 | info@borough.emmaus.pa.us.com | (610) 965-9292

PFOS Update

August 8, 2022






The Borough of Emmaus has levels of Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) / Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) above EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Levels

Our water system recently exceeded an EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level for PFOS / PFOA. Although this incident was not an emergency, as our customers, and our residents, you have a right to know what happened and what we are doing to correct this situation.

Testing results that were received on August 1, 2022, show that our system exceeds EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level for PFOS / PFOA. The Lifetime Advisory Level for PFOS / PFOA is 70 parts per trillion (70 ng/L). PFOS / PFOA levels exceeding this level were found at both Well #1 and Well # 2 within the Borough.  Both wells share the same aquifer. Well # 1 tested at an elevated level of 232 ng/L per tests conducted by the Borough. Well # 2 tested at 1560 ng/L per tests conducted by the Borough.  Well # 2 has been disconnected and deactivated since initial test results were received in October 2021.  Well # 1 remains operational, however, plans are in place to treat and / or decommission the well.

What should I do?

You do not need to use an alternative (e.g. bottled) water supply, per PA DEP, as these chemicals are not currently regulated chemicals for water supply systems.  However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor.

What does this mean?

Per PA DEP’s advisement, this is not an immediate risk. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately. However, exposure to PFOS and PFOA over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g. low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g. testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g. tissue damage), immune effects (e.g. antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects, and other effects (e.g. cholesterol changes).  The EPA calculates health advisory levels to offer a margin of protection against adverse health effects to the most sensitive populations:  fetuses during pregnancy and breastfed infants.

What are PFOS and PFOA?

PFOS and PFOA are chemicals that are part of a larger group referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals are manmade and do not occur naturally in the environment. Because these chemicals have been used in a number of consumer products, most people have been exposed to them.  PFAS often shows up on items such as wild caught fish, dust particles, food that was packaged in different types of containers (such as popcorn), cleaning products, stain resistant carpet, water repellant clothing, non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, candy wrappers, and even certain plastic containers you drink from. The chemical stability of PFOS and PFOA also makes them very persistent to the environment. As is the case in the Borough’s situation, PFOS is also contained in firefighting foam.

What happened? What was done?

The aquifer that feeds Well # 1 and Well # 2 is directly adjacent to the Borough’s Fire Training Facility.  Well # 2 is located directly adjacent to the facility. The facility has hosted firefighting training for fire departments across Lehigh County for approximately 5 decades. Over the years, firefighting foam was commonly used to extinguish fires during training and practice. As is the case in most instances, PFOS was not a knowingly harmful product. It was not until three years ago that fire departments were informed that PFOS was a harmful agent to water sources. At that time the Borough immediately stopped using this type of foam and prohibited its use at the Fire Training Grounds. However, the Borough was advised that we should keep the foam on hand in case of a large fire. Therefore, we continued to store extra foam at our facility, until recently. It is important to note that this is the first time the wells have tested at elevated levels for these chemicals.

The Borough of Emmaus is continuing to work with PA DEP to address the elevated PFOS/PFOA levels.  Initial steps included the immediate shut down of Well#2, issuance of Public Notification, and continued monitoring of PFOS/PFOA levels in the drinking water.  The next steps include the development of a feasibility study which will evaluate permanent solutions to address the elevated PFOS/PFOA levels, including but not limited to: potential interconnections with neighboring Public Water Systems, water treatment proposals capable of PFOS/PFOA removal, and the potential development of additional sources.  Following the study, the Borough of Emmaus will seek an Emergency Public Water System Permit to address the chosen solution of the study.

Because Well # 2 is a crucial part of the Borough’s water system, the Borough cannot sustain shutting the well down for an extended period of time.  Emmaus Borough Council, at its meeting on November 15, 2021, voted to purchase a Calgon 10 Carbon Model 10 absorption system that is designed for the removal of dissolved organic contaminants from liquids using granular activated carbon.  The system is particularly designed to remove pollutants, including PFAS chemicals. Because of the complexity of the issue, and because the Borough needs to treat two wells, the Borough has been working towards a long-term, effective solution.  The Borough is currently working with PA DEP to obtain an emergency permit to install the carbon absorption system as well as with other agencies to adopt a long-term resolution.

The Borough will continue to monitor both wells and test them quarterly, even after the purchase of the new carbon absorption system. If the level of Well # 1 continues to be elevated, the Borough will explore all options to take corrective action. Well # 2 will continue to be offline until the carbon system is purchased.  The Borough is also conducting testing of all other wells in the Borough.  Tests have shown all levels to date are either undetectable or within acceptable ranges as prescribed by PA DEP.

For more information, please contact the Director of Public Works or Borough Manager at 610-965-9292.

Shane M. Pepe

Emmaus Borough Manager

Last modified: August 15, 2022

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