Lights. Camera. Action?
On Monday morning, Pennsylvania Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Brendan Boyle tried a new approach to bringing attention to the issue of perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water and getting federal authorities to act on the contamination. They invited the media and held a press conference outside the gates of the Horsham Air Guard Station at state Route 611 and County Line Road in Horsham. Each congressman has a piece of Horsham in his congressional district.
Boyle, D-13, of Philadelphia, drew parallels from the water issue here to Flint, Michigan, where lead contamination in drinking water has drawn national headlines.
“We’re here to talk about what is a very serious issue,” Boyle said. “We have all witnessed the tragedy that has happened in Flint, Michigan. Where people literally have been poisoned by what was coming out of their tap.”
Boyle said he gained additional perspective into the Flint issue from his position on the House Oversight Committee, which questioned the actions of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy.
“Since that has happened, I think many of us throughout the country have had a renewed focus on … what is going into our water.” Boyle said.
What is in the water locally are the chemicals PFOA and PFOS. The subject of an ongoing investigation by this news organization, the hazardous compounds are found in firefighting foams used for decades at former and current military bases in the area. The military has been investigating the prevalence of PFOS and PFOA in groundwater for years and has so far agreed to pay about $19 million in clean-up costs.
But many, including a growing number of elected officials, are saying the response is not enough.
Speaking for about 15 minutes, Meehan and Boyle echoed the concerns they previously raised in a pair of letters to the federal government. The first, sent to the Navy in early March, questioned when the military branch first learned about groundwater contamination and when it took action. As previously reported by this news organization, the Navy offered a response though questions about the timeline of its action still remain.
A second letter, sent last week to the Environmental Protection Agency, urged that agency to finalize a health advisory that would explain how much of the chemicals a person could consume over a lifetime and not be at risk for health effects. Currently, many state and local water regulators are using a 2009 EPA provisional health advisory, meant to only prevent health effects from exposure over a few weeks or months.
The issue is particularly controversial locally, since the military is using the 2009 advisory to determine which water is safe to consume, even though residents could have been drinking water contaminated with the chemicals for decades. Further, the EPA recently recommended that residents affected by a similar contamination in Hoosick, New York, not consume their water if PFOA levels reach 0.1 parts per billion — just one-fourth the amount considered acceptable here.
Meehan, R-7, of Upper Darby, in particular took issue with the EPA’s response Monday morning.
“The question is, what’s an appropriate presence (for perfluorinated compounds) in drinking water in order for it to be safe?” Meehan said. “Why is (the answer) different in New York? That’s a fundamental question we want to have answered.”
Boyle said his office had been communicating with the EPA about when an updated, lifetime health advisory would be released and said it could be “as early as this week.”