By Pat Elder, October 2, 2020
Nearly seven months ago – March 3, 2020 – to be exact, three hundred concerned residents crammed into the Lexington Park library to hear the Navy defend its use of per-and-poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station (Pax River) and the Webster Outlying Field.
People were concerned because I had just published testing results showing astronomical levels of the toxins in St. Inigoes Creek, down here in St. Mary’s County, just 2,400 feet from Webster Field where the substances were routinely used for many years.
I immediately shared my results with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and I received this reply from a spokesperson. “The Maryland Department of Environment does not currently have any advisories for contaminants in oysters. The only known PFAS thresholds are associated with drinking water, where the risk of exposure is greatest.”
The response from MDE reflects the state’s inaction and incorrectly states that exposure to PFAS is greatest in drinking water. The vast majority of PFAS in our bodies is through the consumption of seafood from contaminated waters. Both the Navy and the MDE understand this very well. It’s convenient for the state to claim this because municipal drinking supplies may be treated. Remediating the military’s mass contamination of the state’s fragile waterways is another story. These are “forever chemicals” and they stick around for a long time, something like the half-life of radioactive materials.
Shortly after the meeting at the library, which proved to be a public affairs disaster for the Navy and its enabler, the MDE, the state initiated a pilot study to assess the degree of PFAS contamination in surface water and oysters in the vicinity of Pax River and Webster Field. MDE announced the results would be ready by mid-May.
Where are the results, Maryland?
Per fluoro octane sulfonic acid (PFOS) was found on my beach at 1,544 parts per trillion. (ppt.) PFOS is the deadliest variety of all PFAS chemicals and it is extraordinarily bio accumulative, which means it builds up – and never breaks down in the crabs, oysters, and fish that Marylanders regularly consume.
Based on my results and the results from hundreds of fish and associated PFOS levels in waterways across the country, Maryland most certainly has oysters that contain thousands of parts per trillion of PFOS while the nation’s top public health officials warn us not to consume more than 1 ppt per day of these toxins which are linked to a host of cancers and fetal abnormalities.
Back in March, Ira May, who oversees federal site cleanups for MDE, questioned if there was any contamination in St. Inigoes Creek based on the results I obtained. If the chemicals existed, he suggested they could have come from a local fire department. Fire stations in Valley Lee and Ridge are about five miles away. The state’s top guy is covering for the military.
While we wait for the results. the MDE has released the following mind-boggling statement regarding PFAS contamination:
“Consumers should keep in mind that exposure risk from consumption of commercially caught fish and shellfish is usually far less than for recreationally caught fish and shellfish. This is because consumers that purchase fish and shellfish from a certified dealer are not getting the fish or shellfish from the same location every week or month.”
This is reprehensible public policy. Put up or shut up, Maryland. Where are the results?