—Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) has asked the state to intervene and address water contamination issues in Horsham Township.
Specifically, Stephens asked the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy as it relates to the two contaminants found - perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – and to eliminate any traceable levels of the chemicals in the public water supply. He also asked the Pennsylvania Department of Health to provide free blood tests for area residents to learn whether they have elevated levels of the contaminants in their bodies so they can work with their health care provider to protect themselves.
In 2014, federal authorities found PFOA and PFOS in the area’s drinking water and determined the cause to be firefighting foam used in training exercises at the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham and at the former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.
In addressing the issue, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Navy are relying on a 2009 “provisional health advisory” level based on short-term exposure to these chemicals which Stephens says is inadequate and is much higher than the levels used in other states where similar contamination has occurred.
For more than a year Stephens’s office has participated in monthly conference calls organized by the Navy to remain informed on the progress of addressing the contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly claimed a new standard is forthcoming but to date a new level has not been adopted and the Navy continues to rely on the old level for their remediation efforts.
“I am unhappy with the speed at which they are moving on this,” Stephens said. “Frankly, they are not getting the job done. It’s time the state stepped in to protect our residents.”
Several states have taken steps to address the same contaminants found here. In researching the issue, Stephens looked to programs in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York for guidance.
Stephens based his requests on actions New York took to address the same contaminants in the Village of Hoosick Falls. According to the Village’s website, “[t]he state has implemented an aggressive plan to address PFOA contamination in the Hoosick Falls area, which includes:
• Overseeing the installation of a temporary municipal filtration system;
• Committing up to $10 million to install hundreds of private residential water filtration systems;
• Testing nearly 750 water samples from private and public wells since January 27, 2016;
• Conducting a comprehensive blood testing program for residents;
• Working to identify an alternate permanent drinking water source; and
• Establishing a local command center with nearly 100 full-time state officials.”
According to an October 2015 EPA fact sheet, “There is evidence that both chemicals, in large doses, have caused tumors in animal studies… There are some epidemiology data that indicate a link between PFOA (but not PFOS) and kidney and testicular cancers in humans; however, more research is underway to evaluate the impacts of these compounds on human health.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Health website:
“In experimental animals, PFCs have been found to cause developmental, immune, neurobehavioral, liver, endocrine, and metabolic toxicity, generally at levels well above human exposures. Studies of the general population, communities with drinking water exposures, and exposed workers suggest that PFCs increase the risk of a number of health effects. The most consistent human health effect findings for PFOA – the most well-studied of the PFCs – are increases in cholesterol and uric acid levels.
“In humans, exposure to PFCs before birth or in early childhood may result in decreased birth weight, decreased immune responses, and hormonal effects later in life. More research is needed to understand the role of PFCs in developmental effects.
“PFOA and PFOS studies revealed tumors in rodents. In a community significantly exposed to PFOA through drinking water, PFOA exposure was associated with higher incidence of kidney and testicular cancers.”
“I have been frustrated by the unacceptably slow response from the federal government,” Stephens said. “The EPA has been aware of this problem for years and is not protecting us. It’s time the state stepped in to ensure our residents have safe, reliable drinking water, free from contaminants. We should never tolerate known health risks in our drinking water.”
Representative Todd Stephens
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster