Water in Blades found to be undrinkable

By Lynn R. Parks

Residents of Blades were rocked last week by the news that their drinking water is unsafe for consumption. On Thursday, the town and the state announced that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) were found in the water, in amounts above the human health advisory level established by the federal government.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that levels of PFCs above 70 parts per trillion may harm human health. Levels in Blades three wells were 117.5 parts per trillion, 96 parts per trillion and 187.1 parts per trillion. (Seventy parts per trillion means that 1 trillion gallons of water should not have any more than 70 gallons of the contaminant. The PFCs should be no more than a 7 billionth of a percent of the whole.)

The state could not say how long the contaminants have been in the water. The towns water is safe for bathing and laundry, the state said.

On Friday, the state delivered two tractor trailer loads of gallon jugs of water to the Blades Volunteer Fire Hall, to be handed out to Blades residents. Friday afternoon, volunteers with the fire company were overseeing the distribution.

Also on Friday, Gov. John Carney authorized the Delaware National Guard to help distribute water in Blades. The Guard provided two 400-gallon portable water tanks to the town, and Guard members assumed authority over the 24-hour water distribution process at the fire hall. On Monday, town administrator Vikki Prettyman said that members of the community were taking food and snacks to the National Guard members. Its amazing to have this community support, she said.

The National Guard also has a 5,000-gallon water tanker ready to go, if it is necessary.

Perfluorinated compounds have been widely used by industry for more than 50 years, in stain repellents for carpets, textiles and paper; in foam used to fight fires; in metal finishing; and as a pesticide. The state and the EPA decided to test the water in Blades because of the historical presence of several metal plating industries there.

The state is also testing the city of Seafords water. On Monday, Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said that that is because of Seafords proximity to Blades. It is not because of the nearby Invista nylon plant, formerly a DuPont Co. plant, he said. That plant once made stain-resistant fibers for Stainmaster carpet.

We dont believe that PFCs were used at the Seaford plant, Garvin said.

City manager Dolores Slatcher said that representatives of Brightfields Inc. Environmental Services, Wilmington, took water samples from two of the citys three wells on Monday. The third well will be sampled once its pump, which is broken, is replaced, probably next week. Slatcher said that she understands that it will take about a week for results to come in.

The state is also working with residents around the town of Blades who have private wells, to get water from those wells tested. On Friday, Blades town administrator Vikki Prettyman said that people who live in the vicinity of town and who are concerned about the quality of their water were welcome to come into town to get bottled water.

The state does not plan to test the water of any western Sussex towns other than Blades and Seaford, Garvin said. There is no reason to believe that they would have the contaminant, he said.

PFCs have been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol and obesity.

In a study that appeared in 2016 in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society, researchers reported that six million people in the United States use drinking water supplies that have more than the recommended level of the compounds.

This is an emerging contaminant, said Tim Ratsep, administrator for the DNREC Site Investigation & Restoration Section. Ratsep was at the Blades Fire Hall Friday, helping to distribute gallon jugs of water to town residents.

An emerging contaminant is a pollutant that is in the environment, but that has not been controlled by the government. PFCs arent regulated, Ratsep said. Nobody has been testing for them. And no maximum contaminant level has been set for the compounds under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

About 460 households get their water from the Blades water system, said town administrator Prettyman. About 1,400 people live in those households.

The towns water plant pumps about 150 gallons per minute. The average Blades household uses 4,000 gallons of water a month, Prettyman said.

The town received the news about the contamination late Thursday afternoon. It arrived in the midst of the towns planning for a groundbreaking ceremony for expansion of its water system east along Concord Road and Brickyard Road.

This is not what we want to go through, said Prettyman, who was at the fire hall Friday afternoon. Our water quality has always been excellent. We thought that the state test of our water was routine. We didnt know anything about what they were testing for.

The town has ordered a carbon filtration system to be installed at the towns water plant. The filter will remove the PFCs from the water. On Monday, Prettyman said that the carbon filter was expected to arrive on Wednesday and could be installed early next week.

After that is accomplished, Ratsep said, the state will work to determine the source of the contamination, and clean it up. The town may end up drilling new, deeper wells, he said. That will have to be evaluated.

Two other areas in Delaware, the city of New Castle and the Dover Air Force Base, have been found to have PFCs in their water, Ratsep said. In both cases, the contamination is thought to have come from foam that was sprayed on fires. In New Castle, Ratsep said, the foam was used at the nearby Wilmington Airport.

On Friday, town employees helped to hand out water at the fire hall. They also delivered bottled water to day care centers in town, as well as to homebound people. Prettyman said that workers were going door to door in town, making sure that residents knew about the contamination.

Resident Crystal Hickman was at the fire hall to pick up water for her household, which includes three children, two dogs and two cats. She had learned about the water contamination Thursday evening, she said.

I hope that they resolve this quickly, she added. And I hope that it doesnt turn out to be something like happened in Flint, Mich.

Everybody with the town is doing everything that we can do, Prettyman said. We live here, we work here, we drink this water too. Ive been drinking the water for 10 years.

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