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August 22, 2023

Water samples from 161 Pennsylvania rivers and streams were tested for 33 different per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and 76% of the studied streams contained at least one of these chemicals, also knowns as PFAS. 

A map showing locations across Pennsylvania where PFAS was detected in water samples.
This map shows 161 sites across Pennsylvania that were sampled for PFAS concentrations. The color coding indicates PFAS concentration levels at each site. USGS image.

This information comes from a recently published U.S. Geological Survey-led study, which was conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The study can be used by local, state and federal agencies working to reduce PFAS exposure in  wildlife and the public and could benefit millions of Pennsylvanians that use public drinking water sourced from rivers and streams.

Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications, from the linings of fast-food boxes and non-stick cookware to fire-fighting foams and other purposes. High concentrations of some PFAS may lead to adverse health risks in people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their persistence in the environment and prevalence across the country make them a unique water-quality concern.

The water samples containing PFAS were also analyzed to determine the possible sources of these environmentally persistent chemicals. Authors of the study were able to determine electronics manufacturing and water pollution control facilities were top PFAS sources in urban areas of Pennsylvania, while combined sewage overflows located near oil and gas development were possible sources in rural areas across the state.

“This is the first statewide study that associates electronics manufacturing as a source of PFAS in streams, which is likely an under recognized, but significant source of PFAS contamination,” said Sara Breitmeyer, a USGS chemist and lead author of the study.

The study can help inform decision makers of which surface waters in the Keystone State may need further monitoring.

“The sources of environmental PFAS contamination are starting to be better understood thanks to studies like this,” said Breitmeyer. “Our study contributes new information on PFAS sources to surface water in Pennsylvania, which will help regulatory agencies address the growing concerns of PFAS’s ecological and human health impacts across the state.”

The full study can be found here:

To learn about ways to help limit PFAS exposure, visit:

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