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When 'forever chemical' testing keeps the edge on

Plus, Rozzi prepared to 'reassess' his speakership.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Thursday, February 9, 2023
Toxic tests, Rozzi's plan, prison purview, abortion case, legal safeguards, disaster deja vu, and remote working in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Pennsylvania is taking steps to limit some toxic "forever chemicals" in drinking water, but conflicting test results and changing standards have residents in one contaminated city unsure of what to do next.

More than a year after concerns were raised that firefighting foam had tainted water in McKeesport with toxic PFAS, which have been linked to elevated cancer and reproductive risks, test results were mixed. 

PublicSource reports that results presented last week by University of Pittsburgh researcher Carla Ng showed levels at some homes above Pennsylvania's new limits, while separate results from the local water supplier showed contaminant levels well below that threshold.

"I left confused," resident Barb Girgash told the outlet. "Their results are not matching. So which one should I rely on?" 

Read the full report: As regulators seek to contain ‘forever chemicals,’ McKeesport residents crave clarity about their water.

THE CONTEXT: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says even extremely low levels of PFAS in drinking water may be unsafe, but there are no federal limits yet, leaving it to states to adopt their own. 

Experts, meanwhile, question limits, like Pennsylvania's, that apply to only a handful of PFAS varieties when there are thousands total. They also question the ability of testing technology to accurately flag violations.

"We're talking about PFAS concentrations in the water that are very hard, if not impossible, to measure with our current methodologies and instrumentation," Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained.

"I think it's entirely possible that we can measure these concentrations accurately, but it's going to take time to develop new methods."

Read more: Pa. waited more than 2 years to test wells after finding nearby PFAS contamination. Now this neighborhood wants answers.


"Initial tests did not show evidence of a new stroke, but doctors are running more tests, and John is remaining overnight for observation."

—Spokesperson Joe Calvello on Wednesday's hospitalization of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.); Fetterman, who suffered a stroke last year, sought treatment after becoming lightheaded during a Senate Democratic retreat
» HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us today at 6 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on the results of the Feb. 7 special elections, how they work, and why they matter. This event is the first in our "How Harrisburg Works" series. Register here and submit questions to 
Up a tree with @mar_sees_life. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A squirrel on a tree branch.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.SPEAKER SHIFT: Democrats won control of the state House on Tuesday, and Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) now says he would consider stepping down from the role and plans to "reassess" things after lawmakers pass a delayed abuse amendment, possibly in the coming weeks, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Rozzi rose to the rostrum in a GOP-engineered deal and was not his party's first choice. 

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.NEW HIRES: Billing it as an effort to address transparency and accountability issues at its troubled prison, Dauphin County has hired former Lancaster police chief John Bey as its new director of criminal justice and Kevin Myers to review staff conduct. But PennLive reporter Joshua Vaughn says both hires may have violated the Sunshine Act, a discouraging start for a "new era of transparency."

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.RX WATCH: A Texas lawsuit could lead to a nationwide ban on a key abortion drug in the coming days, Texas Tribune reports. The suit aims to undo the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in a medication abortion. As Spotlight PA reported last year, it's a medication more and more abortion providers in Pennsylvania have come to rely on.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.TEST DEMAND: Fentanyl test strips are now legal across Pennsylvania and state departments are working to make them available at no cost statewide, Capital-Star reports. First, officials are surveying harm reduction groups to gauge preferences and demand. Jordan Lewis, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs' policy director, hopes to see a naloxone-style distribution effort by the government. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.RAIL RISKS: As worry mounts over the environmental and public health implications of a volatile and toxic train derailment in Ohio, less than 600 feet from the Pennsylvania state line, a caucus of industry unions says the whole mess could have been avoided. The group blames outdated regulation and something called precision scheduled railroading, or, as they put it, "positive shareholder reaction."

GAG ORDER: Dozens of news outlets are petitioning the Idaho Supreme Court to remove a sweeping gag order in the case of a Pennsylvania man accused of killing four University of Idaho students.

LABOR NEIGHBOR: Workers at Pittsburgh's refugee mentoring nonprofit Hello Neighbor are trying to form a union. The company is being accused of "a classic and vicious union-busting campaign," via City Paper.

HATMAKER, HITMAKER: The Philadelphia Inquirer (paywall) is pleased to announce that the designer of the disco ball cowboy hat Beyoncé wore for her Renaissance tour announcement is from Philadelphia.

REMOTE WORK: Bellefonte and Kane offered remote workers incentives to relocate during the pandemic. The organizers told WPSU how they think it went. And here's one participant's experience in Philly Mag (paywall).

PAN PROBLEM: Firefighters were called to a Lewistown home to help a two-year-old that had their head stuck in a cake pan, WGAL reports. The child's mother said she was rescued from a plastic chair when she was a child. 

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Akimbo

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Bruce B., Craig W., Barbara F., Judith D., Joel S., Kimberly D., Vicki U., Jon W., Elaine C., Susan N.-Z., Ted B., Daniel M., Howard G., Don H., Nola D., Carol L., Kirby T., John P., Marianne A., Wendy A., Mike B., Alexander R., Irene R., Margaret Mary H., Jane R., Kim C., Keith W., Chuck M., Bill S., Ed M., Chris M., Starr B., John F., James B., Jay H., Janet T., Adrien M., David W., Fred O., Ada M., Dennis M., Susan D., Brian B., Craig E., Amy Z., Trudy W., Judy M., Terry P., Ellen S., Elizabeth W., Art Z., Patricia R., Dianne K., Stanley J., Vanessa J., Barbara G., Kathee M., Michael K., Benjamin M., Betsi O., and William Z.
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