PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a large group of human-made (synthetic) compounds. They’re an emerging contaminant with minimal state and federal regulation. They are also bioaccumulates, meaning the chemical accumulates gradually over time in organisms, particularly fish. In October 2021, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) issued its first fish consumption advisory based on levels of PFAS in the Piscataway Creek in Prince George’s County. There are currently no fish consumption advisories for the waterways in the Bush and Gunpowder watersheds.
Since the 1940s, PFAS have been present in a variety of industrial and commercial applications/ products, due to their ability to resist heat, oil and water. Specifically, PFAS are used in firefighting foam to extinguish actively burning, petroleum-based fires.
Certain PFAS, such as PFOA and PFOS, are no longer manufactured in the US because of their phase-outs in the early 2000s. PFAS have been detected in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, and other environments throughout the country and Maryland.
We can be exposed to PFAS in countless other ways. For instance, the chemical can be found in fish tissues, soil/dust, food packaging, and in certain manufacturing facilities. Common consumer products that contain PFAS include but are not limited to: grease-resistant papers (i.e. fast food wrappers), nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric treatment, cleaning products, paints, waxes, polishes, and personal care products.
- Maryland Department of the Environment PFAS Fact Sheet: https://mde.maryland.gov/PublicHealth/Documents/PFAS%20Background_Dec2021.pdf
- MDE News Update: https://news.maryland.gov/mde/2021/10/15/department-of-the-environment-issues-first-fish-consumption-advisory-forpfas/#:~:text=Department%20of%20the%20Environment%20issues%20first%20fish%20consumption%20advisory%20for%20PFAS,-Posted%20by%20japperson&text=BALTIMORE%20(Oct.,per%2D%20and%20polyfluoroalkyl%20substances).
- (2019 – PDF) by Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper; Emily Sutton, Haw Riverkeeper; Andrew Wunderley, Charleston Waterkeeper; and Dr. Jane Hoppin, NCSU. Presentation on the basics of PFAS and how three Waterkeepers are tackling the problem.