RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Towards the end of October, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced that elevated levels of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances or PFAS were found in the Chickahominy River. These chemicals do not break down on their own overtime.

The DEQ said the levels are higher than normal, but Newport News Waterworks assures people that all drinking water remains safe with PFAS levels well below what the EPA advises is bad for people’s health.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies have linked PFAS exposure to the following issues:

  • “Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women.
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes.
  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response.
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones.
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.”

Drinking water is one of the ways people can be exposed to PFAS. The EPA said high levels can lead to the adverse health outcomes but research is also ongoing into what happens when low level exposures build up in your body overtime.

The chemicals were found in samples taken upstream from Walker’s Dam in the White Oak Swamp watershed. Newport News Waterworks is working to determine what the source of the chemicals is, the DEQ said the samples were taken near  the Richmond International Airport (RIC).

Newport News Waterworks said in a release that customers are still getting safe drinking water with PFAS levels below health advisories set by the EPA.

“We continue to watch PFAS closely in Virginia and are working with the Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia Department of Health and all of our partner agencies to develop statewide identification and mitigation strategies consistent with the emerging science as led by EPA and other agencies,” said DEQ Director David Paylor. “We will continue to provide public updates on this situation as more information is available.”

The Virginia Department of Health is holding a webinar on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. to further discuss the findings.