Read the full article by Adam Smeltz (Spotlight PA State College)
“BENNER TOWNSHIP — A class of synthetic chemicals identified in 2019 near Penn State’s airport has fouled tap water in an adjacent neighborhood, and families there are now demanding to know why it took environmental officials so long to test their wells, which they use for bathing, cooking, and drinking.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection began providing bottled water this year to at least nine households where well water registered above a longstanding federal health advisory threshold for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, known as ‘forever chemicals’ for their inability to break down naturally.
But as the DEP investigation in Benner Township, Centre County, approaches its third anniversary, Walnut Grove Estates residents want to know why the state didn’t start checking their wells until December — and they worry what the contamination means for their health.
‘It went way, way, way too long,’ said Gene Stocker, 71, whose home borders the airport’s southeast grounds.
Stocker floated the idea of testing residential wells as early as April 2021, when a DEP manager replied that sampling efforts were in the works but that home tests would be premature ‘without a sampling plan in place,’ according to emails he shared with Spotlight PA.
As of late May, at least 41 of 50 home wells in the investigation area showed some amount of PFAS, 11 of them recording levels above the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory threshold at the time. One of the 11 was connected to a vacant house; the other already had advanced filtration.
In a written response to questions from Spotlight PA, the DEP defended its timeline for testing, saying Walnut Grove Estates is more than a half-mile from its initial focus, ‘on the other side of a surface water and presumed groundwater divide.’
‘DEP understands that residents are frustrated, but it is important to understand the process and pace of such an investigation is influenced by many factors, with the primary consideration being sound scientific practices to ensure that any results, and therefore follow-up actions, are sound,’ the department wrote.
It’s unclear how long residents in the affected neighborhood have been drinking contaminated water. The DEP has declined to specify the most likely source as it continues to examine the pollution’s scope and origins. Responsibility could mean costly legal liability, though a lack of regulation around PFAS could limit what entities or businesses could be held accountable.
‘DEP has not discovered any indications to date that the PFAS contamination is anything more than the result of historic practices conducted in accordance with applicable requirements at the time,’ the department said. An investigative report from June 2021 identifies firefighting foam as a potential PFAS contamination source at the airport, which operates under Penn State oversight. The report also explores industrial, technology-related, and military land uses in the roughly 11.5-square-mile study area.”…