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Lackawanna County school seeks remedy for high levels of 'forever chemicals'

Two schools in Lakeland School District reported PFAS levels above federal standards this year.
Lakeland SD
Two schools in Lakeland School District reported PFAS levels above federal standards this year.

After testing for PFAS or “forever chemicals” for the first time, some schools in rural Pennsylvania are now taking steps to remedy high levels of the substances.

The man-made chemicals don’t break down quickly and can lead to certain types of cancers.

Over 30 Pa. schools that use wells for drinking water tested above PFAS standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, according to results analyzed by state partner station WHYY News. Seven of them exceeded state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards, including two in Lackawanna County.

Marc Wyandt, superintendent of Lakeland School District, said students and families of Lakeland Jr. Sr. High School and Lakeland Elementary were notified of the results in mid-May, though the DEP said there was no immediate health risk.

“We followed very closely or strictly to DEP's recommendations,” he said. “They had told us there was no need to shut down water fountains or bring in alternative water sources, but we decided to provide bottled water as an additional measure.”

Schools with high PFAS levels must meet regulations to reduce chemical levels over the next five years. Wyandt said Lakeland is working to install a carbon water treatment system, but the exact timeline depends on state permitting.

“We’re working through that process as quickly as we possibly can,” Wyant said. “We envision that the remedy can be implemented fairly quickly.”

Water tests from Rice Elementary, Lake Noxen Elementary and Lake Lehman High School in Luzerne County also showed levels of PFAS that exceed federal standards. The state DEP said in a statement affected public schools can apply for environmental repair grants.

Outside of required testing at schools, other PFAS concerns in the region cropped up at a mobile home park in Columbia County, where the substances appeared at 110 times the standard set by the state.

Water providers that served more than 350 people were required to undergo testing for PFAS starting in January.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's All Things Considered. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.

You can email Tom at tomriese@wvia.org
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