Feb. 21—Maryland is getting about $19 million in federal funding to help municipalities trying to test or reduce levels of “forever chemicals” in their water supply.
The funds are part of $2 billion earmarked from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will be distributed to U.S. states and territories through the EPA’s grant for small or disadvantaged communities grappling with the presence of the chemicals in their water systems.
The chemicals — known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a group of compounds that are present in firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, flame-retardant fabrics and other consumer products.
The chemicals’ “forever” label is based on how difficult the compounds are to break down and their ability to persist in the environment and humans for an unknown time.
PFAS pose an array of adverse health outcomes to humans, especially in high concentrations, but the prevalence of PFAS in humans makes it difficult to define clear correlations between the compounds and those outcomes, according to Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer.
PFAS have been detected in community water systems across Maryland and in elevated concentrations in at least four Frederick County water systems through testing from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
In Mount Airy and Myersville, where municipal wells tested for elevated levels of PFAS, town officials responded to MDE’s test results by eventually taking the afflicted wells offline.
In Thurmont, town officials said the wells that tested for elevated levels of PFAS could not be taken offline due to water supply demands.
The town instead issued an MDE-drafted public health advisory and applied for a grant through MDE to fund infrastructure projects that would reduce PFAS concentrations in the town water system.
Myersville and Mount Airy also applied for the MDE grant, and Mount Airy issued an advisory similar to Thurmont’s.
Myersville was still in the process of drafting its own advisory as of Tuesday evening, according to Town Manager Kristin Aleshire.
Jim Humerick, Thurmont’s chief administrative officer, welcomed the news of the additional EPA grant money Tuesday. He said if the town is eligible, the grant would help pay for the PFAS filtration system that the town’s engineers are designing.
“It’s great,” Humerick said. “The additional [PFAS] filtration has to be constructed and installed to take care of these chemicals. That could be quite an expensive undertaking.”
The EPA grant is specifically dedicated to communities with fewer than 10,000 residents or communities that meet certain affordability criteria, according to EPA spokesman Roy Seneca.
Thurmont, Myersville and Mount Airy all fit the grant’s population criteria, according to 2021 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Seneca wrote in an email that the grant’s application window will open sometime this summer and be managed by MDE, which will submit the applications to the EPA and distribute any awarded funds to communities like those in Frederick County.
The grant money can then be put toward water system testing or infrastructure projects like the construction of new wells or the implementation of filtration technology similar to what Humerick said Thurmont is designing.
In an EPA press release, state and federal leaders heralded the funding and described PFAS as an emerging threat with an impact on Marylanders that needs to be evaluated and minimized.
“Access to safe, clean drinking water is one of the most fundamental rights of every Marylander,” U.S. Sen Ben Cardin said in a statement. “I am extremely concerned by the number of emerging threats to our water supply, especially those presented by ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS.” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson wrote in an email last week that the state agency will work with Maryland communities to inform them of the EPA grant and the funding opportunities it will provide.