Somerset resident finds trace amount of 'forever chemical' in tap water

Jan. 10—At Somerset City Council's first meeting of the year, council members heard from a citizen who tested his tap water for "forever chemicals," approved a zone change for a property on Bourne Avenue, and started the first step in annexing a business on Ky. 461 that requested to become part of the Somerset city limits.

Local attorney Jay McShurley went before the council during the Citizens Comments portion of the agenda to announce results of a private test he conducted on the drinking water from his home.

The test was in reaction to comments brought up at previous council meetings from citizens, such as McCreary County podcast host Darlene Price, who were worried that processing leachate at the wastewater treatment facility was causing "forever chemicals" to reach the city's water supply.

Leachate is the liquid runoff from landfills, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck signed contracts agreeing to process such liquid from several landfills around the area.

The chemicals that Price and others are concerned about are perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, and other such chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other health risks. They have been nicknamed "forever chemicals" because of their extreme longevity in the environment, rather than breaking down quickly.

McShurley said through research he found a testing company in which he could submit samples of water. The test he bought was $299, he said.

He said he tested for 14 "forever chemicals, and that it took three weeks for the results to come back.

"Fortunately there was only one of those 14 forever chemicals found. It was a trace amount," McShurley said.

That chemical was Perfluorobutanesulfonate, or PFBS, which, along with Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid, is used in is used as a stain repellant and fabric protector.

PFBS can be found in items like Scotchgard, nonstick cooking items, outerwear like gloves and jackets, and fire extinguishers.

McShurley noted that this was only one test and that there was no evidence that the chemical found actually came from any particular source, such as leachate.

"It could be in my pipes, between the city line and my home," he said. "But I intend to continue testing and I invite the council to maybe allocate some money to check the water to see."

Mayor Alan Keck even noted that with its prevalence in the clothing industry, the source could simply be residents washing their clothing and the wastewater draining into the treatment system.

McShurley added that the test was accurate within two parts per trillion, and compared the sample size to the size of Lake Cumberland, which is around 1.9 trillion gallons.

"That would be equivalent to that test detecting 3.8 gallons of something in the lake dispersed equally, I guess," he said.

Council member Jimmy Eastham thanked McShurley for bringing in the test results and said he was glad to hear the results were "successful."

McShurley added, "I was surprised, because you hear all about the leachate and fouling of the water, [but] 13 out of 14 weren't present."

Eastham said that the city also has regular testing of its drinking water, and while the testing may not specify "forever chemicals," it is done by the state, and the state shares its reports with the city.

"We've said this before, all of us have, we're not going to knowingly do anything to jeopardize one person with our drinking water. ... We might unknowingly do it, but that's a different [thing]," Eastham said.

Also at the council meeting, councilors approved the zone change of 509 Bourne Avenue from Business-2 to a Residential-3 (multi-family housing).

The vote wasn't unanimous, however, as Councilors Jerry Girdler and Jim Mitchel voted against it.

Prior to the vote, Girdler had asked how many people could live in the building. City Attorney John Adams said that the current occupancy was for eight or nine, but should the owner wish, he can go to the board of adjustments and request an adjustment for up to 20 people.

Adams also said he believed the owner was planning to use the building as a rooming house for workforce.

The council also held the first reading of a corridor annexation along Ky. 461 to reach a convenience store located near Tommy Drive.

Adams said that the city would first have to annex the rights-of-way along Ky. 461 from Pin Oak Drive to the business's property.

Once that process is completed, the city will be able to follow the business owner's wishes and annex the business into the city.

Keck said that the business owner had made several requests to be annexed, but Keck had put it off in the past because he felt like it was too far away from the city's current boundaries.

Council member David Godsey asked if the main reason for the annexation was to be able to sell alcohol at the store, to which Keck replied, "I don't want to speak for them, but I presume."

Carla Slavey can be reached at