Horsham’s Water: The Way Forward

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Horsham residents listen at June 27 Council meeting on water quality. (Bucks Courier Times)

On June 27, 2016 the Horsham (Pennsylvania) Township Council held a meeting with residents where the issue of Horsham Water Quality was addressed in a presentation, followed by a period of Q&A.  This was the latest in a series of informational meetings specifically addressing perfluorinated compounds PFCs (PFOS/PFOA) in the township water supply as a result of operations at the now-closed NAS-JRB Willow Grove.  Previous information sessions were organized and staffed by elements of the U.S. Navy’s Base Review and Closure (BRAC) office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Horsham Water and Sewage Authority (HWSA).

Of all the points to be made in writing this blog post, it must be recognized that pollution issues existing at the base for decades prior to BRAC are hopelessly entwined with the redevelopment effort.  Their impact in the redevelopment effort was anticipated by all parties from the very beginning.  The officials responsible for its management, Horsham Township Council, HLRA, and the U.S. Navy have always been up front and transparent, presenting all known information directly to area residents!

For this reason, I have been able to blog about the various complications that hazardous materials and pollutants pose to the community on at least FOUR occasions, marking Horsham’s progress in efforts to control the future of the NAS-JRB.

  1.  Horsham’s Big Wait, status of the airbase redevelopment (April 2013)
  2.  A Look at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove Environmental Impact Statement (February 2014)
  3. Water Contaminants and NAS-JRB Willow Grove (December 2014)
  4. Playing Politics with Horsham’s Water (October 2015)

images-2Regardless of how one feels about the U.S. Navy’s role of environmental indifference since the 1940s at NAS-JRB Willow Grove, the present-day Navy has been proactive, transparent, and honest about what was done on the Base; how it affects the residents of the surrounding communities; and identifying solutions for remediation.

You can find the latest information from the Horsham Water Quality presentation – available on-line.  The 38-page Powerpoint slideshow taught me a few new things about PFCs.

Some interesting points:

  • Just two months ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drastically lowered its PFC Health Advisory Level (HAL) from a high of 400 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS to 70 ppt.
  • PFCs are a National and International problem, with wide-ranging allowable levels for the substances’ projected effects on humans outside the U.S.  For example, in comparison to the current EPA standard (70 ppt), Canada allows 600 ppt for PFOS/200 ppt for PFOA; Germany and Great Britain allow 300 ppt for both substances. (This illustrates the largely unsettled science on PFCs and their potential health impacts.)
  • 98% of people tested around the globe have tested positive for PFCs.
  • One part-per-trillion (ppt) equals one drop of liquid to 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  The recently revised EPA HAL at 70 ppt would allow 70 drops of liquid over those 20 Olympic-sized pools!
  • Most PFC applications were phased out of production in 2015.

Of course none of these cute little facts serves to minimize the real health concerns of Horsham’s residents (or Warminster’s or Warrington’s).  Those concerns are real; should be researched and studied to determine the potential for effects on human health; and those effects – if any – mitigated with the costs accruing to the U.S. Government.

So what will be the way forward for Horsham’s water quality?

epaMy experiences in following the BRAC/HLRA processes have proven that Township officials and the U.S. Navy have been up-front, practical, and immediately responsive to all issues affecting the community. From making the earliest decisions on an airport; developing a redevelopment plan; and setting in place the organizational infrastructure to move the effort into its next stages.  This was no different when the EPA triggered the recent groundswell of public attention by significantly reducing the HAL levels for PFC compounds.

When the original HAL (400 ppt PFOA/200 ppt PFOS) levels were set in July 2014, both the Navy and Horsham Township responded quickly, and two municipal wells that tested above the HAL limit were taken off-line.  The same reaction was witnessed this past May when the EPA dropped the safe HAL level by several orders of magnitude.  The Navy set out immediately to test suspect wells; and the Township quickly removed HAL-exceeding wells from the municipal water system.

From this point-of-view, the problem of PFC contamination has been fairly easy to manage.  Removing offending wells from the municipal water system effectively reduces the level of contaminants in the system.  This approach is so effective, Horsham’s current PFC level is 18 parts-per-trillion … or less than one-third the current EPA HAL standard of 70 ppt!

Some suggest that all confidence is lost in the safe-ness of Horsham’s water supply.  For me, the experience is quite the contrary.  If it’s relatively easy to remove bad-testing wells from the water supply, Horsham’s water supply remains safe insofar as PFCs are concerned.  I continue to drink the local water as I did 30 years ago (or more), drinking water right out of hand pumps located on the old Hidden Springs golf course (now Commonwealth National Golf Club)!

However, safe water decisions resides with each township resident!  Nothing in my discussion is intended to downplay the seriousness of the issue. My approach here is rooted in a confidence based on the demonstrated reactions by those who manage our Township and its infrastructure – above and below ground.

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Granular Activated Carbon Filter

The long-range view is even more promising water-quality wise.  The solution is in the construction of Granular Activated Charcoal (GAC) filters.  The filters are large, custom-made, and housed in buildings roughly the size of a garage.  The filters are roughly $1 million per copy; and the U.S. Navy has agreed to pick up the costs associated with the construction and installation of the GAC filters!

The Township expects to have all five filters currently needed on-line by years end, resorting to temporary GAC filters while permanently housed filters are manufactured and installed.  It’s a solution that is reasonable, practical, and most importantly prompt and decisive!

One of my neighbors plans to invest in something called a reverse osmosis filter.  EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection do not recommend in-home filters as being particularly effective.  However, the reverse osmosis system is available with carbon filters which are effective in eliminating PFCs from the home’s water supply.

The most important point to remember however is that regardless of which choices you make in regards to your family’s water quality, none of us would have the information we need to make these choices, if those in charge of the NAS-JRB redevelopment effort were not completely forthcoming and demanding of the U.S. Navy in ensuring Horsham’s quality-of-life is protected!

 

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