In 2014, elevated levels of chemicals like PFOA and PFOS were discovered in water in the suburban towns of Warminster, Horsham and Warrington.
Since then, residents have been reckoning with the possible environmental and health effects of that contamination, believed to be linked to firefighting foams used on local military facilities. Monday night, Residents filled the auditorium at Hatboro-Horsham high school to hear specialists from the EPA and the CDC explain that PFOA and PFOS don’t break down in water, and that they’re basically everywhere, from the flame retardants in children’s clothing to pizza boxes. While at certain concentrations, these contaminants seem to hurt the liver — there’s still a lot we don’t know, especially because the chemicals affect lab mice and rats somewhat differently than humans.
Audience questions covered many topics. Is drinking water in the affected area was safe for pregnant women? The answer: if it’s within the health advisory level, then yes. What are the ramifications for drinking water that had levels of contaminants higher than the health advisory level? The answer: “unclear.”
For Janice Devito, finding out the link between the contaminants and cancer is a big concern.
“We all wonder how long we’ve been drinking this water. What possible things will happen to us because of it. I’ve had cancer three times. Naturally we’re all concerned,” she said.
An official from the Pennsylvania Health Department explained analyzing cancer rates in the affected areas presented a mixed picture. However, the analysis did identify higher rates of two types of cancers that are probably linked to these contaminants — testicular and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The official said they will continue to analyze and update the data to get a clearer picture.
After the presentations were over, Rita Potter, a former nurse who lives in Horsham said that while she felt officials did the best they could to explain what they knew, the presentations were heavy and hard to understand.
“Yeah, put a little bit more English in it, instead of science, that would have been nice,” she said.
Danielle Faden is from a nearby town and worries that similar contamination issues could emerge there. She said she wasn’t satisfied with the presentations.
“I think it was a lot of talking points. There was a lot of deflection, a lot of deferring to other agencies. It feels very impersonal, whereas for us it is a very personal issue,” she said.
Rick Rogers, an official for the regional EPA, said this is just one of many ways the involved organizations are trying to inform residents about the long term effects of the water contamination, including events that feature more dialogue.
Activists and politicians are trying to push the military to pay for health monitoring and testing of residents in affected areas. So far, the military has declined, saying those test results would not link levels of PFOA and PFOS to chemicals leaching out from the bases and facilities.