Maryland’s Poisoned Fish

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Charter boats in the Potomac River directly across from George Washington’s Mount Vernon at the mouth of Piscataway Creek routinely fish for toxic Largemouth Bass. The fish are plentiful and delicious!
Last year, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) reported that a Largemouth Bass contained 94,200 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS in its filet. (See MDE – Table 6)  (Smaller fish, which are not recreationally caught and consumed, were found with concentrations up to 417,000 ppt. in the creek.
Piscataway Creek is shown in blue. The source of the creek is on Joint Base Andrews. The red dot shows the mouth of the creek where it empties into the Potomac. A Largemouth Bass was found to contain 94,200 ppt of PFOS here. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is shown across the river. Washington, DC is 6 miles north. 

 After prolonged public pressure that cited dangerous levels of PFOS in the creek flowing from the historic burn pits on JB Andrews, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) belatedly issued an advisory for fish caught in the creek in October, 2021. It’s the only fish advisory for PFOS in the state, although other military bases, like Fort George G. Meade, the Naval Research Laboratory in Chesapeake Beach, and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station have comparable concentrations of PFOS in surface waters.
PFOS is an acronym for Per Fluoro Octane Sulfonic acid. It was used on JB Andrews in routine firefighting practice since the early 1970’s. Although the DOD has recently stopped using the carcinogens in firefighting foam during training exercises, the chemicals are found in the soil, groundwater, and surface water at frightening concentrations and will continue to leach from the base, perhaps forever. The deadly carcinogens are still used by the Air Force at Andrews, the home of Air Force One, in a host of industrial applications, including chrome plating and degreasing. The toxins have been routinely discarded into the creek. 

JB Andrews is the home of Air Force One
PFOA, per fluoro octanoic acid, has been found in the groundwater on base at a concentration of 435,000 ppt, while the EPA says groundwater shouldn’t exceed .004 ppt. The water at JB Andrews is 108.75 million times over the limit.
The state of Maryland says a pregnant mom weighing 147 pounds (67 kilos) can “safely” consume three 8-ounce portions of Largemouth Bass monthly from the tidal portion of Piscataway Creek. The creek at its mouth is almost a half-mile wide and the fish are oblivious to the arbitrary line of the advisory. It’s not like they turn around when they get to the river.
According to the PFOS advisory, “Piscataway Creek is currently part of a much larger Consumption Advisory Area, Potomac River – 301 Bridge to the DC line. As part of the Standard Operating Procedures for a new advisory, MDE has determined that there is not enough data to apply this advisory to the much larger Potomac River – 301 Bridge to the DC line area.”
The MDE has issued a fish advisory for perfluorinated biphenyls, (PCBs) in the Potomac River from the DC line to the Rt. 301 Bridge. PCB’s are extraordinarily deadly chemicals that are prevalent in fish in the river. Even so, the state says once a Largemouth Bass leaves the creek and enters the river a pregnant woman can eat 6 meals per month of the fish that we know contains dangerous levels of PCB’s and PFOS.

The mouth of Piscataway Creek facing west.  Mount Vernon can be seen across the Potomac.   
Largemouth Bass may be caught anywhere in the tidal Potomac River – from Georgetown in Washington, all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay. If our fish swims north a few miles from Piscataway Creek she may expect to absorb more PFOS from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, DC Water’s Blue Plains Treatment Plant, The DC Navy Yard, and Reagan National Airport. If she travels a little bit south, she’ll come across the myriad of carcinogens belching from the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center and the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center.
The Navy has been contaminating the environment at Indian Head since the Spanish-American War in 1898. They report these concentrations of toxins on the tiny peninsula jutting into the river: (ppb = parts per billion)
Mercury and compounds at .85 ppb in soil.Arsenic at 200,000 ppb in groundwaterPCB’s in soil at 10.0 ppb.DDT in marine sediment .01 ppb DDT in soil .98 ppb. Chromium VI + compounds at 5,000 ppb in surface water. TNT 521 at  ppb in sediment.Thorium 229 at 4,000,000 ppb in soilPerchlorate at 620,000 ppb in surface water
Source: ProPublica / DOD
While the Navy continues to contaminate the river, it says some of the contamination has been cleaned up, although they’re monitoring things until 2045. There have been no truly independent verifications of the data released by the naval command here or anywhere else.  The Navy won’t tell us the levels of PFAS contamination at Indian Head, while the MDE looks the other way. 
What’s in your fish?Back to the PFOS


Maryland Department of the Environment, 2021
PFOS – fish and water math
Fish
Each Largemouth Bass contains a concentration of 94.2 ng/g (nanograms per gram) of PFOS.94.2 ng/g x 227 g (8 ounces) = 21,383 nanograms of PFOS.21,383 ng x 3 fish monthly = 64,150 ng of PFOS monthly.
Water
The EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) for PFOS is based on the exposure of a 70-kg adult consuming 2 liters of water per day with a concentration of .02 ppt of PFOS.1 part per trillion (ppt) = 1 nanogram per liter (ng/l)02 ng/l in 2 liters daily creates a dose (as opposed to a concentration) of .04 nanograms daily.04 x 30 days = 1.2 ng.
The EPA wants us to limit PFOS in drinking water to 1.2 nanograms a month while the state of Maryland is advising pregnant women that they can safely consume 64,150 nanograms of the carcinogens monthly, or 192,450 nanograms during the first trimester.
These synthetic chemicals are absorbed by the mother through the fish and subsequently by the unborn baby via the placenta. Exposure to the family of chemicals that includes PFOS may cause birth defects, premature deliveries, stillbirths, and problems with the nervous system development. PFAS levels in breast milk have been found at 40,000 times over EPA guidelines for drinking water. Almost all women pass the carcinogens to their babies.

Thanks to Denise Trabbic-Pointer, Certified Hazardous Material Manager Emeritus, Sierra Club – Michigan Chapter, for checking the math and providing editorial assistance.
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