Read the full article by Kyle Bagenstose
“Warminster resident John Kolb rose from his seat and walked about 30 feet to confront, face to face, the federal bureaucracy he said ruined his life. By the time he got to the microphone, he was crying.
‘I’ve listened to everything you’ve said, and I haven’t heard one thing from any of you concerned about the people who have come down with cancer,’ Kolb said. ‘Nobody cares about us.’ …
The meeting, organized by U.S. Rep Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, brought in representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, as well as Maureen Sullivan, a deputy assistant secretary of defense and the Department of Defense’s lead on regulatory compliance.
The agencies are now in their fourth year overseeing a crisis in the region, after municipal drinking water wells in Warminster, Warrington and Horsham were found to contain toxic perfluorinated compounds at levels about what the EPA says is safe. The water authorities in those towns have since worked to eliminate the chemicals, also known as PFAS, from their water supplies. But at least 70,000 residents were believed to have been exposed when the contamination was discovered, and uncounted numbers of past residents may also have been exposed.
The chemicals are suspected to have originated in firefighting foams used over decades at three area military bases: the now-shuttered Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster and Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, as well as the active Horsham Air Guard Station.
Kolb, who lives just south of the former Warminster base, said he and his wife had both been diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer, and both his daughters’ health has been impacted. He said health care costs have cleaned out his savings and his retirement, and that several neighbors have also been made sick.
‘I now have to work just to pay next month’s bill,’ Kolb said. ‘I’m not seeing anything being discussed here, from you folks, at a level where you say ‘OK, we want to really find out what the impact on this particular area is.’ ‘
Residents of communities dealing with PFAS contamination elsewhere in the county also attended. Vickie Landis, a resident of East Rockhill, lives near the site of a 1986 tire fire where the firefighting foams were suspected to have been used by a responding military unit. Dozens of nearby private water wells have been found to contain the chemicals.
Landis said she’s a real estate agent in the area, and that while some residents understand the situation and how to take precautions, others don’t or can’t afford to pay for filtration.
‘Not everybody can do that. Not everybody knows how,’ Landis said. ‘I’m here on behalf of all the neighbors that don’t know.’
The frustrations of Kolb and Landis echo those made previously by other residents over the past years: that the pace and scope of response to the contamination is inadequate. Several local officials also needled the federal representatives Thursday, saying they needed to respond more robustly…
The federal officials largely repeated Thursday what they’ve been saying throughout the process, including that they are following cleanup regulations and guidelines and have prioritized the issue.
Richard Mach, director of environmental compliance with the Navy, said the department was doing things differently than with past contaminations of other chemicals. Instead of starting from the source and working their way out, they instead jumped to sampling off-base water sources in an attempt to find and limit exposure…
A primary concern was the discrepancy in safety levels put forth by the EPA and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The EPA has a 70 part per trillion (ppt) drinking water advisory it says is safe for all people. The military uses it as a threshold to determine when to pay for the contamination of public or private water supplies. The advisory applies to the combined total of two of the more common PFAS: perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
The ATSDR, on the other hand, has developed its own safety numbers. And while the agency doesn’t have authority to set drinking water limits, it recently released comparable numbers that suggest a limit of 14 ppt for PFOS to protect children (52 for adults) and 21 ppt for PFOA (78 for adults)…
‘I’m a little bit concerned about this too,’ [Sullivan] said. ‘I don’t understand how the numbers from the EPA relate to the numbers that came from ATSDR.’
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, asked ATSDR regional director Lora Werner about the discrepancy. She said the answer was complicated.
‘We look at numbers a little differently than EPA,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t change the fact that EPA (could) use our information as they consider the next steps.’
Locally, the Warminster, Warrington and Horsham water authorities have all enacted plans to remove the chemicals down to nondetectable levels out of concern the EPA’s numbers might be too high. But the authorities are paying millions of dollars, which they pass on in large part to their water customers to pay for the plans, as the military only abides by the EPA’s 70 ppt standard.
Stephens asked Sullivan why the military couldn’t just choose to use lower levels such as the ATSDR’s figures. She responded the military is legally limited to only using the EPA’s figures.
‘Then respectfully I think we need to change the law,’ Stephens responded.”