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Contaminants of Emerging Concern: PFAS
What are PFAS?
Chemistry of PFOA, courtesy of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/assets/images/pfoa.jpg

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a diverse group of compounds that have varying degrees of persistence, toxicity and bioaccumulation in the environment.

The most produced and studied of the PFAS are Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

PFAS have unique properties to repel both water and oil. They are found in a variety of industrial and household products such as stain repellant textiles, fire-fighting foams and paper coatings. 

While there is still much to be learned about the effects of PFAS on human and ecological health, potential impacts to people from drinking water or eating exposed fish make them a concern.

The DRBC is working with the USEPA, Basin states and others to understand and manage these contaminants of emerging concern.

PFAS Monitoring in the Delaware River Basin
DRBC staff pull a sediment sample from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff pull a sediment sample from the Delaware
River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC.

The DRBC has investigated PFAS in Delaware River fish tissue since 2004, in surface water since 2007 and in sediment since 2016.

Why does the DRBC Collect PFAS Data?

•  To identify occurrences and potential sources of PFAS;

•  To understand risks to designated uses (e.g., source water protection, fish consumption advisories, maintenance and propagation of fish and other aquatic life); and

•  To evaluate the efficacy of regulatory and management strategies in reducing exposure and risks from PFAS.

What Do the Data Show?

•  Surface water concentrations of PFAS appear to be below regional and national guidelines in areas designated as drinking water sources.

•  While significant decreases in some PFAS compounds have been observed in fish species, reduction in concentrations of other PFAS, such as PFOS, in fish tissue has been less substantial.

•  Sediment from the tidal main stem Delaware River have long-chain PFAS detected at low concentrations.

Further evaluation of risk to human health and wildlife is warranted in the Delaware River. 

Current Monitoring Efforts

In FY 2021 and FY 2022, the DRBC is collecting samples of surface water, sediment, fish and bluecrabs in the mainstem Delaware River, between Narrowsburg, N.Y. and Salem River, N.J., to monitor for 40 different analytes of PFAS. Several tributaries will also be sampled.

Data collected will be used by DRBC and other state and government agencies as the scientific basis for the development of future PFAS reduction strategies and will inform fish consumption advisories.

This project is being supported with grant funding from the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund, Pennsylvania Coastal Zone Management and the U.S. EPA.

DRBC staff collects a surface water sample from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collects a sediment sample from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collects a surface water sample from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collects a surface water
sample from the Delaware River to
monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collects a sediment sample
from the Delaware River to monitor for
PFAS. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collects a surface water
sample from the Delaware River to
monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collected several species of fish, including catfish, from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collected several blue crabs from the Delaware Bay to monitor for PFAS. Photo by DRBC. DRBC staff collected several species of fish, including catfish, from the Delaware River to monitor for PFAS.Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collected several species of
fish, including catfish, from the
Delaware River to monitor for PFAS.
Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collected blue crabs from
the Delaware Bay to monitor for PFAS.
Photo by DRBC.
DRBC staff collected several species of
fish, including catfish, from the
Delaware River to monitor for PFAS.
Photo by DRBC.


Another project, funded by a grant from the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection, will conduct a research study to focus on PFAS in the Delaware River Estuary.

The DRBC works with its various advisory committees (e.g., the TAC, MACC and WQAC) to solicit input from experts and stakeholders in the Basin on how to improve its monitoring program.

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