HOUSTON (FOX 26) - When first responders poured tens of thousands of gallons of firefighting foam into the massive ITC blaze, they created the potential for a secondary environmental catastrophe.
That's because the polyfluroalkyl make-up of the foam is highly toxic, dissolves in water and never, ever degrades.
When containment barriers at the ITC site failed, PFAS foam flowed directly into bayous which empty into Galveston Bay.
"PFAS is completely water soluble and that should be a concern to everybody," said Jackie Young of the Texas Health and Environment Alliance.
While it's taken more than a month, the Environmental Protection Agency has posted test results confirming PFAS contamination in the ship channel.
"It was present in about a thousand times higher than what would be allowed in drinking water, which is definitely an indicator that there's a problem, that those chemicals did enter the shipping channel and there should be some much more careful investigation," said Sonya Lunder, a Colorado-based environmental toxicology expert for the Sierra Club.
"The new PFAS levels are alarming. The levels are astronomical compared to what we know to be acceptable and what we know to be safe," said Young.
Among the results from five sites tested was a PFOS (chemically similar to PFAS) measurement of 3,800 parts per trillion. The EPA has set 70 parts per trillion as a level "unsafe" for human consumption in drinking water.
With no accurate gauge yet on how far the PFAS has spread, Lunder's initial concern is contamination of seafood.
"They will persist really indefinitely in the Galveston Bay environment, be taken up by fish and shell fish and they pose a big concern for public exposures," said Lunder.
Contacted by Fox 26, the EPA issued the following statement:
"To provide information to the public about the presence PFAS in surface water, EPA used a number of tools to analyze surface water samples taken in Tucker Bayou and Buffalo Bayou. The Agency used commercial methods to analyze samples for PFAS. EPA provided this information to local officials to inform their decisions on cleanup efforts. Through efforts outlined in EPA’s PFAS Action Plan, the Agency is working to develop and validate a standard method for analyzing PFAS in surface water, which will further assist in the efforts to provide information to the public about PFAS."
It is important to note that samples are still undergoing quality assurance review and the data may change once this review is complete. EPA typically waits until it has completed its quality assurance processes before it makes data available. However, EPA made the preliminary data available so that the public has access to this information as quickly as possible.