At the end of March, residents and area officials called for the Navy to lower its threshold for action when it comes to private wells contaminated with a hazardous substance known as PFOA. It has been an issue in towns around current and former military facilities in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
In an email statement, Navy spokesman Bill Franklin said that they are sticking with the Navy’s short-term advisory level of 0.4 parts per billion (ppb), but that most people with private wells showing PFOA between the proposed lower amount, 0.1 ppb and the current guideline of 0.4 ppb, have already been connected to public water.
“Fifteen private wells have levels of PFOA between 0.1 and 0.4 ppb. Of these, thirteen are now connected to public water or currently receiving bottled water due to PFOS contamination levels,” read the statement.
PFOS is a contaminant related to PFOA, but which has its own, different cut off for when to intervene.
Franklin said the Navy has tested 360 private wells in the Horsham, Warminster and Willow Grove areas. The Navy discovered contamination in groundwater in 2011; it discovered PFOA/PFOS in public and private water wells in 2013.
PFOA and PFOS are members of a family called perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), used in nonstick coatings in a variety of consumer goods, from Gore-Tex to microwavable popcorn bags. They are also components in heavy duty firefighting foam used simulations for putting out jet fuel fires at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove.
PFC’s are in a kind of regulatory limbo, with EPA providing guidance at the federal level, while some states such as New Jersey impose their own, stricter standards based on their own research.
According to current EPA guideline, PFOA is safe for short exposure in drinking water at an amount of 0.4 parts per billion (ppb). However, inconsistency between the guidelines and recommended action levels of the substance in drinking water in other parts of country, contributed to distrust and outcry over the cleanup in Pennsylvania.
“This inconsistency and lack of transparency, is really leaving people stranded and not knowing if their drinking water is safe,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
Public wells in Horsham, Warrington and Warminster that tested at the lower level have already been taken offline.
The EPA has announced it will release updated guidelines and recommendations about longer term exposure in spring of 2016.
Studies of the health effects of PFCs in people have shown links to developmental delays and kidney, prostate and testicular cancer, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.