PFC contamination closes public well in East Rockhill

by Kyle Bagenstose and Chris Ullery, originally posted on September 22, 2016


East Rockhill has joined a growing list of Bucks and Montgomery towns where water supplies have been contaminated by unregulated chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Lindsay Hughes, community relations coordinator with the North Penn Water Authority, which operates East Rockhill’s system, said Thursday that the chemicals were found earlier this month at levels above 70 parts per trillion (ppt). That’s the drinking water limit recommended in a health advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We shut down the well as soon as we found out,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the well was taken offline on Sept. 12, when results show it contained 117 ppt of the chemicals: 110 ppt of PFOS, and 7 ppt of PFOA.

The well is one of two groundwater wells on which the East Rockhill system solely relies. Samples for the other well showed levels of 65 ppt: 57 ppt of PFOS and 8 ppt of PFOA.

Hughes said the authority is putting into operation an existing, emergency connection with the Perkasie Regional Authority. That connection is expected to be operational early next week, at which point the second East Rockhill well will also be closed, she said. The state Department of Environmental Protection was expected to issue an emergency permit allowing the change Thursday afternoon, to expedite the connection.

Hughes said the East Rockhill system serves approximately 194 customers. That pales in comparison to the 34,000 customers served by the larger North Penn Main System.

Hughes said all of the wells in the Main System had been tested and that the chemicals are “not a problem” in that system. An annual water quality report for the Main System says that 85 percent of the system’s water comes from the Forest Park Treatment Plant, a state-of-the-art facility which officials say does not produce water containing the chemicals. The other 15 percent originates in 12 groundwater wells.

North Penn water also operates a water system in Sellersville, but Hughes said that system gets all of its water from the Main System.

Hughes said Main System customers are “not affected” by the East Rockhill wells, and that there’s “nothing our customers need to do at this point regarding PFOS and PFOA.”

She added that the emergency connection to Perkasie is a short-term plan, and the authority would be evaluating long-term solutions. Hughes also said customers would not see an increase in their rates because of the contamination and closing of the wells.

Nick Fretz, manager of the Perkasie authority, said there are also no expectations of any change in service to that authority’s customers due to the opening of the interconnection.

“There will be no effect to our existing customers,” Fretz said.

He said the Perkasie system relies on five groundwater wells. EPA testing in 2013 did not detect any levels of the chemicals in the Perkasie system.

However, he said the authority has recently retested the wells using a more advanced technology and anticipates receiving the results in a month or so.

“We’re not required by law (to test),” Fretz said. “However, my board determined for peace of mind … that it’s probably best for us to test.”

Once the two East Rockhill wells are closed, it will bring the total number of shuttered public wells in Bucks and Montgomery counties to 20.

Six have been closed in Warminster, five in Warrington, and five in Horsham because of PFOA and PFOS contamination. In those communities, the chemicals are suspected to have originated in firefighting foams used at a trio of former and current military bases in that area.

In May, the Cross Keys well in Plumstead Township was closed due to PFOA contamination, and levels of the chemicals were found in neighboring townships in lower amounts. In July, a well in Chalfont operated by Aqua Pennsylvania was shut down because it tested at 68 ppb of the chemicals.

Chemicals in the closed wells in the Plumstead Township and Chalfont areas are not suspected to have originated from firefighting foam use at the military bases. The chemicals have also been used in the production of a variety of commercial and industrial products, such as Teflon pans.

With East Rockhill’s contaminated well also being miles away from the military bases, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has “no speculation” at this time as to the source of the township’s water woes, said Virginia Cain, community relations coordinator for the department.

The township is currently retesting the well so the department can confirm the levels of the chemicals, but for now it is “too early for a full-blown investigation,” Cain said.

Cain said previous investigations have included sending requests to tests private wells near contaminated sites, such as the Cross Keys well in Plumstead.

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