MARTINSBURG — City officials in Martinsburg want residents to know the water in the city remains safe to drink despite an upcoming health assessment concerning the local water supply.
The assessment area will be near Shepherd Field, or the 167th Air National Guard base, which has been noted as the source for water contamination discovered at the Big Springs Water Plant in 2016.
The area is one of eight locations in the United States that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The assessments are expected to begin this year and run through 2020.
The ATSDR will be handling the assessments, but the City of Martinsburg will be involved as much as needed, including public meetings and anything else involved in the public process.
The health assessments are checking human exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
According to the ATSDR website, “an exposure assessment is a way to look at whether people in a community might have been exposed to a certain type of substance in their environment. People are tested to see whether they have been exposed and answer questions to help identify possible sources. Using this information, public health professionals provide guidance to help people reduce or stop exposure. An exposure assessment does not look at what types of health problems the exposure might cause.
“The primary goal of these exposure assessments is to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies. This information will also be used to help inform future studies evaluating the impact of PFAS exposure on human health. People in each of these communities will be randomly selected to participate in these exposure assessments.”
Perfluorooctanoic acid — known as PFOA — and perfluorooctane sulfonate — known as PFOS — were found in the water at Big Springs, and the plant was shut down around May 19, 2016.
“PFOA and PFOS weren’t things we analyzed for way back when. The (Environmental Protection Agency) didn’t even have a standard for them,” Steve Knipe, director of the city water and sewer department, said Tuesday. “In 2014, they did what’s called UCLR 3 and that’s one of the parameters that’s in that series of testing. In that time, we detected PFOA and PFOS in the Big Springs source’s well. At that time, the EPA didn’t have a health advisory limit for it.
“In May of 2016, the EPA issued a health advisory limit of 70,” Knipe continued. “Since we had previous ones two years before that were above 70, we took the source of supply for the Big Springs Water Plant offline immediately.”
At the time of the closure, Knipe said that there was “no threat to the public” because “the limits were lowered nationally and these chemicals became detectable at the Big Springs plant.”
Knipe said at that time, the city procured engineering to do testing and pilot work and constructed a plan through the rest of 2016 and 2017. The plant was back online in December of 2017 with new charcoal filters after an estimated $4.5 million renovation project.
“We want to make sure the public understands that there really wasn’t a standard until May 2016,” Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin said Tuesday. “When the EPA issued that standard of 70 parts per trillion, since we were already above that, we received a health advisory from the department of health.”
Water remains clean in the city, both Baldwin and Knipe said. Current sampling shows a detection level as “non-detect” or “right down to the detection level,” Knipe said.
That covers data from all of 2018, too, Knipe added.
“The water is safe to drink in Martinsburg,” Baldwin said.
According to a release from her office, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., ensured Berkeley County was included in a joint study between the Department of Defense and ATSDR on PFAS exposure in populations living and working on and around military bases.
“My state unfortunately is all too familiar with this issue,” Captio said while questioning EPA and DOD officials during an Environment and Public Works Committee meeting last week. “The federal government, in my opinion, needs a comprehensive solution to addressing this challenge.”
Capito said the solution is “three-pronged” — identifying and preventing; protecting the drinking water sources; and cleaning up contamination.
“I am encouraged by EPA’s action plan, adopting a holistic approach,” Senator Capito said. “But I am concerned that we’re falling slightly short here. If this were the water that your children and grandchildren were drinking, what would be the emerging level of concern, rather than when it’s occurring somewhere else? I know at the heart of everybody we all feel that way, but when it’s directly affecting you, it really takes on a stronger urgency.”