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New research could paint fuller picture of PFAS presence in Delaware

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
The wetland at the St. Jones Reserve near Dover

University of Delaware researchers are studying the presence of so-called “forever chemicals” in the Delaware Bay.

Mi-Ling Li, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology atUD, presented preliminary findings of her team’s research at a meeting hosted by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays Friday.

Li said the current priority is to establish a baseline of PFAS contamination in and around the bay. 

“But down the road, my group will be looking at source tracking, the bioaccumulation mechanism, and potentially the health impacts on the biota,” she said, referring to the plants and animals in the area. 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals long used in consumer products and industrial processes. PFAS contamination is widespread but not well understood—although studies indicate the chemicals can be toxic to humans

Li is measuring concentrations of the chemicals in surface water at sites including the St. Jones Reserve wetland near the Dover Air Force Base and the Inland Bays in Sussex County. 

Li says preliminary results at the Dover wetland are concerning. 

“The St. Jones Reserve probably has a very high concentration compared with all the other sites that we measured for this study in the Inland Bays and the Delaware Bay, and also compared with other quite heavily industrial-impacted places in the country, for example the San Francisco Bay and in Seattle,” she said. 

Li says her team will also look at the marsh’s ability to capture the contaminants before they enter the bay. 

PFAS chemicals have also been found in drinking water in several places in Delaware, includingnear the Dover Air Force Base

A bill currently before the state legislature would create a process to set specific state limits on PFAS chemicals in drinking water.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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