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HIA makes bottled water available to travelers because its water system is over PFAS chemical limit

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/21/19

Bottled water is being made available to travelers at Harrisburg International Airport, following the airport’s water system exceeding a health advisory limit for the presence of chemicals known as …

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HIA makes bottled water available to travelers because its water system is over PFAS chemical limit

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Bottled water is being made available to travelers at Harrisburg International Airport, after the airport’s water system exceeded a health advisory limit for the presence of chemicals known as PFAS.

As for the Middletown public water system, system samples were tested in September for six types of PFAS chemicals by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Results came in below the health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a letter from DEP to Suez provided to the Press & Journal by Middletown Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter.

The airport has its own water system, and the water is tested every two weeks. Samples drawn on Oct. 28 exceeded the 70 parts per trillion threshold, said airport spokesman Scott Miller.

Airport officials learned of the test results on Nov. 14.

The airport issued a public notice that is posted for travelers at HIA. The notice also goes out to any users of the airport water system.

The notice is required by the Pennsylvania DEP when the airport water system exceeds the 70 parts per trillion threshold, Miller said.

The health advisory established by the EPA says that long-term exposure to drinking water that exceeds the PFAS threshold may have health consequences over a long period of time, Miller said.

The airport is making the bottled water available to travelers and others at HIA as a precaution. The airport is not handing out the bottled water. Stations where the bottled water is available are set up near where the public notices are posted, Miller said.

Miller said he does not know how long it will take for the water in the HIA system to be back down under the health advisory limit for PFAS.

The airport Nov. 14 shut down one of its wells which had the high concentration of PFAS, according to the public notice. The airport tested the water system again on Nov. 13. Results received Nov. 20 showed the water still testing above the 70 parts per trillion health advisory limit.

“We don’t know the source” of the PFAS, Miller said.

Known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries in the United States and worldwide since the 1940s, according to the EPA website.

PFAS are or have been found in many consumer products such as cookware, food packaging, and stain repellents.

Manufacturing and processing facilities, airports, and military installations that use (or used) firefighting foams are some of the main sources of PFAS, according to EPA.

According to EPA, studies indicate that PFAS chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals.

The chemicals have caused tumors in animals.

EPA says the most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.

Miller said that HIA is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to use a certain kind of foam that has some PFAS in it, because the foam is “very effective in putting out fires to save lives.”

The foam does not go into the ground but is disposed of by the airport, he noted.

The airport was developed on the former Olmsted Air Force Base. DEP has identified military bases as a common source of PFAS.

Miller said that HIA is working with DEP to fix the situation, starting with plans to put a carbon filtration system on one of the airport’s groundwater supply wells to filter out the PFAS.

Longer term, the airport wants to install a filtration system at the main water treatment plant that serves HIA.

In both cases, these remedies require approvals and permits that take time to obtain, Miller said.