In this Aug. 1, 2018 photo, a water tower stands above a residential neighborhood in Horsham, Pa. In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. EPA testing between 2013 and 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states.
Matt Rourke / Associated Press
Wolf’s $8M to remove PFAS from Bucks water won’t solve the problem, activists say
Catalina Jaramillo is a part-time reporter for StateImpact PA. She covers water issues in the Delaware Watershed. She was born and raised in Santiago, Chile, and has written for several publications in Chile, Mexico and the U.S. She’s a graduate of Columbia School of Journalism and has been a Fulbright and Metcalf fellow.
Pennsylvania will contribute $8 million toward helping remove a number of unregulated toxic chemicals from contaminated water in the Bucks County communities of Warminster, Ivyland, Warwick, and Warrington.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that $5 million will go to Warminster and $3 million is slated for Warrington.
Seventeen public wells — 13 operated by the Warminster Municipal Authority and four in Warrington serving a total of about 55,000 consumers — were contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, used in firefighting foam at military bases in the area. The chemicals have been linked to some forms of cancer and other illnesses including elevated cholesterol, low birth weights, and thyroid problems.
The funds from the Commonwealth Financial Authority’s H20 PA program will enable the municipalities to use their own wells, instead of buying water from other sources at a higher cost.
“Access to safe drinking water is one of the fundamental rights of every Pennsylvanian,” Wolf said.
But activists and residents contend the move won’t solve the problem.
More than two-dozen communities in Bucks and Montgomery counties have some level of PFAS in their water supply right now, said Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. So while assisting some municipalities will help, the problem is extensive.
“And while it’s great that the state is stepping up at this moment of need for these communities with this money, in the end, it needs to be covered fully by the responsible party. And in this case, for these communities, it’s the military,” Carluccio said.
Tim Hagey, general manager of the Warminster Municipal Authority, said the U.S. Navy has paid for treatment systems for four wells that exceeded the current Environmental Protection Agency standard of health advisory levels: 70 parts per trillion. The state grant will help treat six other wells using granular activated carbon systems, he said.
This grant “means that we can put treatment systems on our wells without significant financial problems for our customers,” Hagey said.
The Navy couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
Neighboring Horsham Township, in Montgomery County, received a $10 million grant in 2016 from the state to eliminate PFAS from its water supply.
The grants will help the municipalities, said Mark Cuker, a member of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water and an environmental attorney. But to really address the issue, Pennsylvania must set a maximum contaminant level that’s enforceable.
“This is a piecemeal approach, and it’s like playing whack-a-mole — it’s going to come up again and again,” Cuker said. “We need a comprehensive approach where the polluter has to pay. And that can be done by adding PFAS to the hazardous substance list.”
New Jersey already has developed stricter maximum contaminant level standards than EPA’s current health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOA and PFOS combined.
Montgomery County resident Hope Grosse, also with the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water, said she is not happy about Wolf’s announcement of the funding. She said the U.S. Department of Defense should be the one cleaning up the pollution.
“The state didn’t cause the problem, and the state has the responsibility, and the state also has the power to change this,” she said. “And the fact that the state is using the taxpayers’ money to put a Band-Aid aid on this problem is a mistake.”
In February, Pennsylvania announced it planned its own process of setting health limits for two PFAS chemicals.