• Katherine Stairs

Water Contamination at the Mount

Photo credit: Eileen Rosewater

On Oct. 27 last year, President Timothy Trainor sent an email to the university community to inform that one of the three wells that supply water had been contaminated. This contamination exceeded an EPA health advisory level for Perfluorooctanoic Acid and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate. PFOA and PFOS are humanmade chemicals that are part of a larger group referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. These chemicals do not occur naturally, but they are used in a number of consumer products and industrial applications. As a result, most people have been exposed to them at one point or another. However, research says that exposure to high levels of PFAS may cause adverse health outcomes.

As stated in Trainor’s October email, this is not an immediate risk, but those with a compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant or are elderly “should seek advice from their health care providers about drinking this water.” Consulting a health care provider is especially important for those considered high risk seeing ad chronic exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels could result in developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, cancer, liver effects, immune effects, thyroid effects and other effects.

The water from the Mount’s wells is tested regularly and has met state and federal drinking water standards. At the time this email was sent out, the Mount was working with Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Environmental Services to reduce the chemical levels in well three. On Aug. 31, 2021, testing results for the untreated groundwater sample collected from East Campus’s third well by MDE showed the presence of PFOS and PFOA exceeding the EPA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. The PFOS and PFOA detections found in well 3 were 72.74 ppt (PFOS= 37.83 ppt; PFOA= 34.91 ppt). The following month, on Sep. 21, there were two follow-up samples collected.

One of the samples was from the unfinished groundwater sample from well three, and the second sample was a finished water sample from the Mount’s water treatment plant. The results from the follow-up testing from the unfinished groundwater sample showed that the PFOS and PFOA concentrations were below the EPA Health Advisory and measured 59.11 ppt (PFOS= 31.93 ppt; PFOA= 27.18 ppt). The finished drinking water sample from the treatment plant were also below the EPA Health Advisory with the total results of 43.48 ppt (PFOS= 22.68; PFOA= 20.80 ppt).

The Mount’s Physical Plant Department was working with the MDE and MES to reduce the chemical exposure for the students, faculty, staff, visitors and other drinking water consumers. Other methods were under evaluation to reduce or remove POFS and PFOA from the water sources. One of these options included drilling a new well. In addition to this, the chemical levels will continue to be monitored.