With the Maryland General Assembly set to start next week, environmental groups are urging lawmakers to regulate toxic chemicals, after a new report shows elevated levels in state waterways.

Maryland’s Department of the Environment found 75% of drinking-water samples tested contained harmful contaminants known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals.”

Harmful “forever chemicals” from firefighting foam can leach into shallow groundwater and then potentially flow into nearby rivers and streams.

Emily Scarr, state director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which released the report, called the results “alarming,” noting that this group of chemicals is used in thousands of products, from nonstick pans to firefighting foam.

“Where we found the highest levels of PFAS contamination in drinking water is around the industry and around military bases, where PFAS is often used for training purposes,” she said. “Some of the highest levels I’ve seen are in the Annapolis area, in Charles County, and some at the Aberdeen Proving Ground as well.”

She said state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, and Del. Sarah Love, D-Montgomery, will introduce a bill in the General Assembly to ban PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam, food packaging, and carpets, as other states have done in the past few years.

Studies have revealed links between these contaminants and serious health effects, including liver damage, cancer, and harm to immune systems. Scarr explained that they also pose serious occupational health risks for folks such as firefighters, who are more likely to have increased exposure on the job.

“One of the things that makes this most dangerous is that it builds up in our bodies over time, similar to lead,” she said. “So, this is particularly dangerous for our most vulnerable populations, like children who can be exposed for their lifetime.”

In 2021, Maryland had to issue its first-ever fish consumption advisory. The state Department of Environment found elevated PFAS concentrations in largemouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and yellow bullhead catfish in Prince George’s County.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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