Is Our Water Safe to Drink?
In an Oct. 27 email back in 2021, President Timothy Trainor informed the Mount community about the presence of Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate in Mount’s drinking water. He stated that one of the three wells providing potable water to the university and the city of Emmitsburg exceeded Environmental Protection Agency Health Advisory Level for PFOA and PFOS.
“Current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes,” his email further explained. According to EPA, peer-reviewed studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of PFAS may lead to decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women, developmental effects or delays in children and increased risk of some cancers, such as prostate, kidney and testicular cancers.
Other harmful effects comprise reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response, interference with the body’s natural hormones and increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.
Trainor stated that the university’s water is regularly tested and meets all state and federal primary drinking water standards. He assured that the university was working closely with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Environmental Service to reduce the concentrations of PFOA and PFOS found in well 3 and protect the students, faculty, staff, visitors and other drinking water consumers from unnecessary exposure to the compounds.
“As consumers of the Mount’s drinking water, you have the right to know of the quality of water that you are provided, how it may impact you, and what we are doing to correct the situation,” he affirmed.
Almost two years later, on Aug. 24 of this year, “Fredrick News Post” reported that due to concerningly high levels of PFAS, Emmitsburg has stopped buying water from the university. PFAS are a family of compounds, also known as forever chemicals, which break down very slowly over time. These chemicals are also found in carpeting, firefighting foams, cleaning supplies and water-resistant fabric among other things.
Vice President of Business and Finance William Davies provided additional details about what is going on concerning the water quality on campus. Davies confirmed that Emmitsburg halted its purchase of water from the university, but they did not make it clear why. MES performs annual and quarterly water testing to ensure healthy quality of water on campus.
The university uses carbon and resin-based filtration to clean the water supply before it is distributed for consumption. The Mount also has invested in hiring engineers for better filtration, distribution and water softening technologies. “We need to be in compliance with federal and state regulations which we are and will always be,” Davies stated.
Currently, there is no set regulation on the amount of PFAS in drinking water. It is anticipated that, later this year, the regulatory levels will be defined as 70 ppt (parts per trillion) by the EPA. “We are meeting current regulations but will need to add filtering to get below the anticipated proposed limits that will be in future regulations,” Davies added.
Mount St. Mary’s University is working on adding and implementing modern technologies by working with engineers to help water planning for when regulations are defined. Along with this, the school is investing in improving water distribution.
According to the “Frederick News Post” article, Emmitsburg halted their purchase of water from the university due to concerns over higher PFAS levels than the 4.0 ppt proposed limit. In the Emmitsburg 2022 Water Quality Report, there are no noted detections of PFOA or PFOS. As of right now and for the foreseeable future Emmitsburg will not be purchasing water from the Mount.
In the article’s aftermath, Trainor made a statement in an email dated Aug. 21 and wrote: “Let me assure you that our potable drinking water continues to meet all current state and federal regulations, including those for PFAS levels, especially PFOA and PFOS.” However, a water delivery truck has been spotted outside Bradley Hall, which houses important administrative offices.
Students also have concerns regarding the quality of water and credibility of the administration’s stance. Julie Shetterly (C’26) said, “Since the article claims that the water is unhealthy, I have concerns about the water filters around campus.”
Isabelle Ringeval (C’26) remarked, “After reading the ‘Fredrick News Post’ article, I am most concerned about the high-risk exposure to PFAS and the health concerns that come with it.”
Trainor’s response to those concerned is as follows: “The university’s water meets all state and federal standards for quality including PFAS levels. Due to the possible changing of water quality standards and to continually improve our water supply system, we have an engineering firm designing an improved water supply, filtration, and distribution system to reduce PFAS levels among other improvements. If and when state and federal guidelines go into effect requiring reduced levels of PFAS, our water quality will meet those new standards.”
Some members of the university believe the proposed levels to be misguiding. Many are still worried about the presence of these chemicals in the water and hope for the university to use engineers and modern technologies to address the concerns over PFAS levels.
Photo by: Kelly Blanco