Representatives from the Navy, local water suppliers, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gathered in Horsham Township Community Center Tuesday to talk about the federal government’s new health standard for drinking water and how it is affecting what comes out of the tap in this area.
Local residents came with questions and big worries about two contaminants — PFOA (perfluoroooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluoroooctane sulfonate).
Those chemicals have been found in some Bucks and Montgomery county water supplies. The contamination stemmed from fire-fighting chemicals used at former military installations in the area.
One mom’s eyes filled with tears when she asked if the chemicals could cause high blood pressure during pregnancy. Steven Keatings from Warrington carried a notebook with pages of notes, and talked about his 18-month old daughter and a new baby on the way.
“I was trying to find out if there are any long-term medical issues I should look for in the next five year, or should I keep a medical record and look for issues 15 or 20 years down the line,” he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s new standard of 70 parts per trillion is lower than the “actionable” level used locally in the past, so the Navy has recently provided residents with bottled water and is working to connect their homes to the public water system.
“As of Friday we can confirm that any public wells that were exceeding the new health advisory were taken out of service and offline, so all the public water is under the 70 parts per trillion,” said Virginia Cain, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates public water across the state.
“The analysis has been completed to set in place protective levels for people like you and me and sensitive populations that will protect people from adverse health affects from PFOS and PFOA,” said Bobbie Smith, a spokeswoman with the EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.
That assurance was little comfort for Steven Keatings.
“I was told a year ago I was fine, and then 12 months later, I find out that I’m not,” Keatings said.
Smith said as the science on the two “emerging contaminants” grows, the government has adjusted its recommendations.
The experts set up information tables at stations around the community center room and at one point residents lined up three and four people deep to ask questions. Very quickly people in the crowd became frustrated that the “open house availability” format made it hard for large groups to get information.
“I just wanted to sit down and have them break down everything, what the next steps are,” said Melanie Bliss from Warminster Township. She said that information is long overdue.
Some were upset there was no large-scale question and answer session. People were encouraged to walk around and look at presentations.
A spokesman admitted that organizers underestimated the volume of turnout, but EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Smith said the meeting design was intentional to give people a chance to raise personal and specific health issues.
“They don’t want to raise their questions and have all of their neighbors hear something they are concerned about,” Smith said.
To help accommodate the large crowd, the experts stayed well past the scheduled end-time for the event to answer questions.
Many people asked about what blood tests are available and what level of chemicals in the body is a problem.
“Not a lot of labs do the blood test because it’s an emerging contaminant,” said toxicologist Christine Lloyd from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “But if you do get them it could be expensive, your insurance likely won’t cover it.”
Lloyd’s group is a federal public health agency that evaluates public exposure to environmental contaminants.
“We’re in the process of doing that,” Lloyd said.
Scientists will compare cancer rates in the Horsham, Warrington and Warminster to the state average. “It’s not going to say whether a certain cancer is related to it [the contamination], it will just show an association, a statistical association,” Lloyd said.
People in the crowd also asked if it is safest to drink bottled water or filtered water if they are worried about their home water source. Bottled water is not regulated by the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration has that oversight.
“It’s hard to answer that, if it was me I would go with the filtered it’s really a personal preference,” Lloyd said. Every filter product is different she said, but if manufacturers instructions are followed scrupulously, it’s possible to reduce the worrisome chemicals.