WARMINSTER, Pa. (AP) — Decades after the Navy used an unregulated contaminant in firefighting training on two former bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties, the chemical is turning up in elevated levels in public water wells.
Both the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority and the Warminster Municipal Authority have taken wells offline and notified approximately 18,000 residents after the detection of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
The Navy, in a release on the Warminster Municipal Authority website, said the compound is associated with many consumer products and firefighting foams, such as those used at both the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham and the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.
Why now, about 60 years after it was first developed, is the perfluorinated compound threatening local water supplies?
Bonnie Smith, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Atlantic Region, explained that, "The more science and technology develop, the more we're able to learn, study and detect chemicals that we were not able to before."
The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to issue a new list every five years of "no more than 30 unregulated contaminants" to be monitored by public water systems. PFOS is on the most recent list.
PFOS and the compound made to replace it, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, are "extremely persistent in the environment and resistant to typical environmental degradation processes," according to the EPA. "The toxicity, mobility and bioaccumulation potential of PFOS and PFOA pose potential adverse effects for the environment and human health."
The EPA describes them as "emerging" contaminants.
Studies in humans have found that people with workplace exposure to PFOA have higher risks of bladder and kidney cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. The chance of having testicular cancer tended to increase as the level of exposure to PFOA increased.
Tim Hagey, general manager of the Warminster Municipal Authority, said PFOS has "probably been there for decades. ... There weren't tests available for it until recently. The problem right now is science is trying to catch up."
The EPA has established a Provisional Health Advisory of 0.2 parts per billion for PFOS. Hagey's authority shut down two wells and plans to shut down another as a "cautionary measure" even though only one well is above the 0.2 ppb limit. Well 26 on Ivyland Road near Louis Drive (0.7 ppb).
Well 13 on Vista Drive (0.13 ppb) was also taken offline. Well 10, on Bristol Road near Twin Streams Road, will be taken down next week, he said. It's tested at 0.16 and 0.17 ppb. It would have been taken offline immediately, he said, but the well impacts the authority's water pressure.
Hagey said the authority has been proactive with notifying more than 10,000 customers and dealing with the impacted wells. "The public water supply continues to be safe to drink," he said.
Hagey spent several hours at Thursday's night's Warminster supervisors meeting, but neither the board nor audience members asked questions of him.
He'll be attending a public meeting regarding the contamination the Navy is holding from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at William Tennent High School, 333 Centennial Road, Warminster.
A similar meeting is being planned for next month in Horsham, where wells numbered 26 and 40 that feed homes in a Sawmill Valley subdivision and along Keith Valley Road were shut down.
The Horsham Water and Sewer Authority took the action after PFOS was detected at levels of 0.7 and 1.0 parts per billion in the two wells.
The former firefighting training area of the base has high levels of PFOS and is not far from well 26, according to information on the authority's website. "It is possible that the presence in groundwater is related to historic activities at the base."
Tina O'Rourke, business manager of the Horsham authority, said 7,600 notices went out to residents. "Those wells are no longer being used," she said. With the actions taken, she said: "The water is safe to drink. It meets all drinking water standards."
The contamination in Horsham further complicates the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority's plan to acquire the property from the Navy.
The first parcel of property expected to be moved as early as the end of this year, which includes the runway and taxiway, won't transfer until mid-2015 "if things go well," according to Mike McGee, executive director of the HLRA. The date for the final of three parcels to be transferred was pushed back a year to 2021.
Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com