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'Forever chemicals': Poolesville's drinking water contaminated

The town closed off two wells while testing determines the source of PFOS and PFOA chemicals.
Credit: Becca Knier
Suzanne Sutton's home water faucet

POOLESVILLE, Md. — Caroline Taylor worked for years leading the environmental group Montgomery Countryside Alliance to keep drinking water safe. She was one of around 6,000 Poolesville residents who got a warning earlier in December from town management that drinking water was contaminated with two toxins.

"Many of us worked so hard in the 1990s to get protected by the federal government as a sole source aquifer," said Taylor. And at the time, the water was tested to be high quality. So we were so proud of this. And so protective of it and to find "forever chemicals,' perhaps tainting it and making it dangerous. It's tough."

Samples from August reported in December show two wells in the town of Poolesville tested above the EPA safety advisory for chemicals called PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid).

Scientists call those two compounds “forever chemicals.” 

You can’t boil them away because they never break down. They are both often used to manufacture non-stick products. Scientists say those chemicals can cause fetal and infant health problems and immune system problems in adults.

"We're taking action on it immediately. And we've taken the wells, the two wells, that were listed as having the contaminants in them offline, so they don't have it in their drinking water as far as that goes any longer," said Town Manager Wayde Yost.

The town’s manager added those with compromised immune systems and who are pregnant should consult their doctor.

One possible source of the chemical contamination being investigated by the town: Fertilizers used by area farmers, including some using treated sewage waste from the Potomac River.

"We're very concerned about biosolids and fertilizers. So we know those come from wastewater treatment plants. And we know they have high levels of PFOS., very, very high levels, astronomically high levels. And we know the farmers in these areas are using them. And they don't know they're dangerous," explained Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Timothy Whitehouse.

Taylor added, "We've been very heartened at how proactive the town of Poolesville has been. They're a small town but they haven't able staff and a very active council, and they are on this and so the residents of the town should be very heartened about that."

Residents can weigh in or get their questions answered at a community meeting at Poolesville Town Hall on Jan. 3, at 7 p.m. 

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