DEP names Bergey’s Tires as source of PFAS contamination in Bucks County private wells

Emily Cutaiar, 8,  (left) and her sister Jessica, 9, know not to drink water from the tap in their Sellersville home. Their well was found to be contaminated with PFAS. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Emily Cutaiar, 8, (left) and her sister Jessica, 9, know not to drink water from the tap in their Sellersville home. Their well was found to be contaminated with PFAS. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After three years of investigating, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has identified Bergey’s Tires as the source of toxic chemicals in private drinking water wells in a Bucks County community.

The DEP has been investigating the drinking water in East and West Rockhill Townships since 2016, when regulators detected elevated levels of a toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS in a public well in the nearby Ridge Run community.

That led investigators to sample 150 private wells in the surrounding area, and regulators identified 14 with levels of PFOA and PFOS — two of the most common and well-studied PFAS chemicals — above the EPA health advisory of 70 parts per trillion.

PFAS have been linked with health conditions, including high cholesterol, thyroid conditions, and certain cancers. 

The agency did not identify a source, even when neighbors pointed to the nearby tire company where there was a massive tire fire in 1986.

Accounts of the fire depict a blaze that raged for 20 hours with 20-foot flames and required 30 fire companies to bring it under control — including those from military air bases in Warminster and Horsham, where PFAS-laced firefighting foam was used. Regulators have known since 2014 that the foam used on the military bases contaminated drinking water in nearby communities in Horsham, Warminster, and Warrington.

On Tuesday, the DEP backed up residents’ claims and, after an extensive investigation, pointed to the Bergey’s location as the source of the chemicals and the company as a “potentially responsible entity” under the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act.

“At this point, we’re hopeful that they see the numbers we have and see everything that we’ve presented to date and look at this potentially as an opportunity to contribute to the cleanup and help us achieve these goals a little sooner rather than later,” said DEP Regional Director Patrick Patterson.

Involving a private company would make the remainder of the investigation — which is ongoing and needs more information and sampling to determine the full extent of the contamination — faster and cheaper, Patterson said. If Bergey’s assumes responsibility, it would mean the financial burden of the cleanup would fall on the company, not on taxpayers.

“Right now, we are expending taxpayer dollars on an event that certainly was not the fault of the taxpayers,” Patterson said.

Bergey’s did not respond to a request for comment. The DEP said it has not yet heard from the company.

Patterson noted that Bergey’s could decide not to participate, or could argue they are not the responsible party, pointing the finger at another entity — the firefighting companies, for example, or the chemical manufacturers, like 3M and Dupont.

That’s what Sellersville resident Jodi Cutaiar fears. She lives in one of the 14 homes whose private wells are contaminated with PFAS stemming from the Bergey’s site.

“I’m nervous that it’s still going to be a drawn-out process,” Cutaiar said. “I’m happy that they listed Bergey’s as the source, but I feel like it’s still a fight that we’re still going to have to go through.”Patterson said he hopes to have productive discussions with the company and understands the frustration of residents.

“Those folks were right all along,” he said. “These investigations can take a lot longer than expected, and that really can be frustrating to the residents.”

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