US Rep. Wants Montco Contaminated Water Case to Go Federal

Congressman Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., is calling on federal lawmakers to look into water near military bases especially in the Horsham area, people are concerned the water is contaminated. (Published Monday, June 6, 2016)

A U.S. Representative wants a congressional hearing into allegations of contaminated groundwater in the vicinity of the former Willow Grove Naval Air Base.

“Concern among Horsham’s residents has significantly increased since the EPA tightened its health advisory guideline for these contaminants in our drinking water. A growing body of studies links these contaminants to various forms of cancer, thyroid disease and other health complications,” said Congressman Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.-13. “While I appreciate the EPA’s heightened scrutiny of these contaminants and the Navy’s commitment to monitoring wells and taking implicated wells offline, I believe officials have thus far failed to present adequate information to the public regarding the latest science and known health risks posed to our community. That is why I am calling for a congressional hearing.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new guidelines last month for toxic chemicals in drinking water. The new information is significant for people in communities near Willow Grove as well as former Naval Air Station Warminster and Air National Guard Horsham where groundwater and well water were contaminated by two key chemicals found in the firefighting foam used on the bases -- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

“The Department of Defense (DOD) has an annual budget of approximately 2.5 billion taxpayer dollars to remediate health and environmental threats such as those posed by PFOS and PFOA contamination for which it is responsible, in my district and nationwide,” said Boyle in a news release. “Since releasing its list of 664 sites where fire-fighting foams containing PFCs might have been deployed, the DOD has elected to use its environmental investigation and remediation budget to assess groundwater samples from affected sites and to begin voluntary remediation of these installations. However, despite the serious health risks posed by prolonged exposure to and accumulation of PFOS and PFOA in potable water sources on these sites, the response has lacked the urgency I believe is necessary to address this public health threat. These investigation and clean-up efforts are seriously undermined by a lack of urgency on the part of the DOD.”

No word yet when and if the hearing will happen.

Contamination is not a new issue at Willow Grove, now called Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove or NASJRB Willow Grove. For at least 20 years some people who worked on the base -- and their family members -- have suspected their cancers were connected to the same contaminants but no direct link has been admitted or proven.

The base was shuttered in 2011 and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard took over the facility. Since 2014, bottled water has been brought in for the handful of people who still work on the base in security and administrative positions.  

In recent years, cancer survivors and family members of Willow Grove workers -- enlisted and civilian -- who died from cancers, organized on Facebook and began sharing information. Members of that group attended an open house informational session intended to address contamination concerns. The Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority has developed a plan to revitalize the Superfund site with residential, retail, parks, housing for the homeless and even a school.