Read the full article by Zoë Read (WHYY PBS)
“Inside a nondescript building nestled in a business park in New Castle, Delaware, a small group of scientists were testing water samples recently, to see whether they had been contaminated by the very large class of toxic chemicals known as PFAS.
Chief scientist Chuck Powley walked into a noisy room — it sounded as if airplanes were flying overhead. He pointed to the equipment helping him and his colleagues achieve their goals: to identify PFAS and find a way to remediate and destroy them.
To the lay observer, the devices looked like contraptions connected to test tubes, bottles, and wiring. In actuality, they were tools for precision chemical analysis.
‘This right here, this is what’s called liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry. And this … was commercialized around 2000. Before 2000, the tools to look at PFAS at very low levels did not exist,’ said Powley, a former DuPont chemist. ‘So once this was commercialized, we could then look for part per trillion levels of the PFAS and that was in water and soil and blood. And that’s the reason why, even though PFAS have been around since the 1950s, we really didn’t know we had a problem until this was commercialized. So this was a game-changer, and that was around the time I got into the PFAS field as well.’
For decades, PFAS have contaminated groundwater, air, and soil in communities in this region and across the country, as well as waterways and the fish living in them.
These so-called forever chemicals — PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are widely used in consumer products such as nonstick cookware, flame-retardant fabrics, and some food packaging. PFAS are also found in firefighting foam used at airports and current and decommissioned military bases, such as those in Bucks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania and at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Dover Air Base in Delaware. The numerous health problems, including some cancers, linked to PFAS have led to lawsuits against the companies that make the products, such as DuPont and its successor companies and 3M.
PFAS are so long-lasting that contamination has been found decades after it was released into the environment, and labs show the chemicals stay in the human bloodstream for years.
There are about 4,700 different PFAS, making them a formidable issue to tackle. The New Castle lab, called the Center for PFAS Solutions, is able to test for 40 of them in well water, drinking water, and wastewater.
Launched in 2019 by the Science, Technology & Research Institute of Delaware (STRIDE), the nonprofit organization offers drinking water testing for people with private wells, monitors northern Delaware water supplies for Artesian Water Co. and New Castle Municipal, and helps companies that are developing water filtration products by testing their water. STRIDE was funded by the Longwood Foundation and co-founded by Seetha Coleman-Kammula to bring together experienced scientists from DuPont to redeploy their talents to help the state of Delaware.
The Center for PFAS Solutions also has been selected for funding for a proposal submitted to the Department of Defense to trap and destroy PFAS chemicals.”…