Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf joined a chorus of local lawmakers asking the military to pay for nearly 70,000 blood tests for people exposed to contaminated water on and around local military bases.
Wolf sent a letter to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force asking them to pitch in on costs related to biomonitoring and blood testing for 69,987 people who drank water from both private public wells contaminated by chemicals used in firefighting foam. The foam was used extensively at the defunct Willow Grove Naval Air Station and Horsham Guard Station in Horsham as well as the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster.
Concern about water safety has existed for years in those communities, and nearby Warrington, but a new sense of urgency developed last month when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a more stringent guideline for what's considered an acceptable level of exposure to the chemicals.
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Known mostly by the acronyms PFOA/PFOS, water is now acceptable to consume if perfluorooctanoic and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid levels are 70 parts per trillion (0.07). The previous levels were 0.2 and 0.4 parts per trillion, depending on the chemical.
"This level is determined by testing water; there is no known advisory level for blood. However, we believe blood testing is critical to addressing the concerns of private citizens who may have been exposed," Wolf wrote in his letter, which was signed by state senator Stewart Greenleaf, and state representatives Bernie O'Neill, Todd Stephens and Katherine Watson.
Pennsylvania's Department of Health estimates if half the population gets tested, it'll cost $7 million. Wolf says with the state already facing a deficit of upward of $2 billion, it can't commit to covering the costs. He's also asking the Navy and Air Force to pay for carbon filters on all remaining wells.
Approximately 140 private residential wells in Horsham and Warrington were taken out of service due to the new health advisory. Several public wells that supply a portion of the water to those communities were also affected.
The Navy has been reluctant to pay for blood testing.
"Well at this point in time, we're not prepared to test people's blood," Greg Preston, director of the Navy's Base Closure Program Management Office, told NBC10 in May during an open house session to address community concerns about the water. "There are studies that are out there that have addressed those issues, and frankly they have not found a whole lot of value in doing it at this point in time, because we, the experts, are not really sure what to do with those results at this time -- what they really mean or how they translate."
In Hoosick Falls, New York, more than 2,000 people have had their blood tested for PFOA levels. Water contamination there is connected to two manufacturing plants -- Saint-Gobain and Honeywell International -- where PFOA was used to make Teflon and other non-stick materials.
Folks in Hoosick Falls just this week began getting their blood test results. They were told the geometric mean for everyone tested was 23.5 parts per billion. That's nearly 12 times higher than the national average.
Attorneys with Weitz and Luxenberg, a law firm working with consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, is investigating water contamination in Hoosick Falls as well as Horsham, Warrington and Warminster. A team of attorneys from the firm will visit Montgomery County, possibly in the next two weeks, to talk with interested community members.
"Meeting people in person really means a lot," said attorney Robin Greenwald, explaining that while investigations often result in a lawsuit, there's a lot more they need to learn.
"You'd be surprised at the information we gather from these community events," Greenwald said.
A growing number of people who worked on the bases and lived nearby suspect their cancers and other illnesses are connected to the chemicals.
Human studies show exposure to increased levels of PFOA puts people at risk for high cholesterol levels, hormone issues, autoimmune diseases, kidney and testicular cancers as well as reproductive complications. No one really knows the impact of long-term exposure.