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This lab wants to help Delaware deal with PFAS contamination

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Center for PFAS Solutions Chief Scientist Chuck Powley

A local start-up lab is trying to build capacity for testing and remediating PFAS in the First State. 

The long-lasting, toxic chemicals known as PFAS have shown up in drinking water in all three Delaware counties — and even in the blood of some New Castle residents at levels several times the national average. 

But testing for the substances in drinking water is complicated. There are currently no labs certified to do it in Delaware, and water utilities have to send samples out of state for official reports. 

Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Seetha Coleman-Kammula, CEO of the Center for PFAS Solutions

A lab launched in 2019 by the nonprofit Science, Technology & Research Institute of Delaware (STRIDE) is trying to change that. 

“With this instrument, we can get down to part-per-trillion levels of PFAS in water,” said Chuck Powley, standing in front of a mass spectrometry machine in an office park in New Castle. Powley, a former DuPont scientist, now works at the Center for PFAS Solutions in New Castle. 

“A part per trillion is about three seconds in 100,000 years,” he said. “So the levels we need to get down to are really, really low. And it's tough to do that, especially since PFAS are everywhere.”

The Center for PFAS Solutions is working on getting its PFAS-testing accreditation, and expects it to be finalized next month.  

The lab doesn’t just do PFAS testing. It’s also working to develop better technology to filter the substances out of drinking water — and to destroy them. 

“What good is it if you're testing, but you can't really tell people what they can do about it?” said Seetha Coleman-Kammula, Center for PFAS Solutions CEO. She says the lab is hoping to patent new PFAS-filtering technology. 

Last year the Center for PFAS Solutions was awarded a grant alongside Stroud Water Research Center to study PFAS in soil and water on Pennsylvania farms that fertilize with biosolids from wastewater.

The State of Delaware recently got$50 million from a settlementwith DuPont and two spinoff companies over PFAS contamination. Part of that money will go to research and development. 

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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