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Delaware water utilities offer feedback on proposed PFAS contamination standards

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday it is designating two of common types of the so-called “forever chemicals” PFAS as hazardous substances.

That opens the door for the federal government to track contamination and push polluters to pay cleanup costs for the chemicals.

The move comes as Delaware officials and water utilities discuss the state’s proposed standards for PFAS contamination in drinking water.

Utilities spokespeople and water quality experts noted at a Thursday meeting that the proposed standard, which would set the maximum contamination levels for PFAS at close to zero, will be hard to achieve with limited staff and a year-long wait to receive the carbon filters needed to remove the chemicals from water supplies.

Newark city manager Tom Coleman adds with new federal PFAS contamination standards expected this fall, the wait for and cost of filters could grow. He argues that might be a reason to allow utilities several years to test and reach compliance.

“I think they are ambitious targets that we should be aiming towards, but in light of the supply chain issues and economic impacts, it may not make sense to go directly there," he said.

Seetha Coleman-Kammula, president of the Newark-based nonprofit PFAS solutions, also noted that the carbon filters are not recyclable, creating another possible environmental concern.

Source Water Program Director Steven Mann notes that his team will search for ways to reduce the burden on both utilities and consumers.

“We know that not everybody will be happy. We have to take public health into consideration – that’s why we’re here," he said. "But the costs are a significant concern.” Nevertheless, he added, strict PFAS contamination rules and urgent action are important for public health. "I think we can see the writing on the wall: the trend is towards zero, like lead," he said. "Anything above zero is going to have an adverse effect."

The Division of Public Health will consider the feedback and provide a final version of the PFAS regulations next month.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.