EPA officials get a clearer picture of where contamination is in Blades

By Lynn R. Parks

The chemicals that have contaminated groundwater in the town of Blades seem to be showing up in wells on the west side of Market Street and south of West 2nd St.

Kelley Chase, an on-scene coordinator with Region 3 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, based in Philadelphia, told area residents who attended a public meeting at the Blades Fire Hall last Thursday that as results of water tests trickle in, scientists are getting a clearer picture of where the contamination is.

That information could help to lead researchers to the source of the perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) that were found last month in Blades municipal water, she added. After the discovery of the contaminants, town residents were advised not to cook with or drink the water. Carbon filters were installed on the towns water supply a week later; latest tests of the filtered water didnt show any signs of the compounds and residents have been told that they can start drinking the water again.

Investigators are in the process of testing private wells just outside the town limits. They have identified about 100 properties, located in a half-mile radius of the towns three contaminated wells, that they are interested in looking at. Water samples for the tests are collected at the kitchen sink.

As of Tuesday, water from 44 of those properties had been tested. Results were back on 39 of the tests, showing that six of the wells had more than the recommended levels of PFCs. Those six homeowners were notified and were given carbon filters to install at their kitchen sinks.

A fourth homeowner, whose PFC amount was higher than 75 percent of the recommended level, was also given a carbon filter.

Shawn Garvin, secretary of the states Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, was among the speakers at Thursdays meeting. He said that if water tests show that the contamination has moved beyond the area that investigators have identified, the state will expand its testing area. How we will map our zone out will depend on how the data comes back, he said.

Chase assured people that it should not take long for investigators to figure out how the contamination is moving. It wont be a long delay before we make a decision about whether we need to expand our testing area, she said.

Garvin also said that investigators havent formed any opinion yet as to the source of the contamination. The state initially tested Blades municipal water because of the presence in town of two metal plating facilities, one closed down and now an EPA Superfund site, the other, Procino Plating, still in operation. PFCs were historically used in such operations.

But that does not mean that the plating companies were the source of the contamination, Garvin said. We have drawn no conclusions about the source of the chemicals, he said.

Similarly, he was not willing to point fingers at the nylon plant near Seaford, just across the Nanticoke River from Blades, as a source. The plant, now belonging to Invista and formerly a DuPont Co. facility, has made fiber for Stainmaster carpet; historically, PFCs were used in production of non-stain carpet fiber.

In 2017, DuPont and its spinoff company, Chemours Inc., agreed to pay $671 million to settle a lawsuit over perfluorooctanoic acid, a PFC, that was used in the production of Teflon at a plant in Parkersburg, W. Va., and that allegedly contaminated the citys water supply. In a statement, DuPont said that it had started using the chemical at the West Virginia plant in the 1950s, but hadnt used it in more than a decade.

Garvin said that the state has anecdotal information that PFCs were not used at the Seaford plant. But if tests show that the contamination is coming from a certain area, we will follow that, he added.

Rick Galloway, with the states Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances, told the crowd that several years ago, the state tested the waters of the Nanticoke River for PFCs. The levels were very low, he said, so low that the state did not feel a need to check the waters again.

Based on the results, we werent planning to do any more testing, Galloway said. But in light of the situation in Blades, that is something that we might have to look into, he added.

Many of the people at Thursdays meeting had questions about the effects of PFCs on their health. Jamie Mack, acting chief of the Office of Health and Risk Communications, part of the Delaware Department of Public Health, said that the risk in exposure to PFCs at the level that they appeared in Blades water is fairly low. 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.

Effects of long-term exposure to PFCs include cancer and impacts to the immune system, Mack said. The Department of Public Health has looked at cancer rates in the Blades-area population and found elevated incidences of two cancers, lung and prostate. But those are more linked to lifestyles and genetics, more so than chemicals in the water, he said.

Mack said that there is little reason for residents to have their blood tested for high levels of PFCs. There is no treatment if levels are high, he said. And studies have shown that about 98 percent of Americans have PFCs in their blood. The chemicals were used in a variety of products, including food cans, pizza boxes and pet food bags, before they were phased out by companies in the wake of evidence that they were accumulating in humans.

We have all had a lot of exposure to this stuff, Mack said.

The good news is that studies by the Centers for Disease Control have shown that since that phase-out, levels of PFCs in humans are declining. The centers most recent tests, done in 2014, showed general levels in PFCs in the blood of 2 to 3 micrograms per liter, down from 5 micrograms per liter more than a decade ago.

Both Garvin and Chase tried to reassure nervous residents not to worry if they are outside of the current designated testing area, or if tests of their water come back showing some PFC contamination, but below the cautionary level established by the EPA.

But both also acknowledged that people living outside of town may still want to buy and install carbon filters to treat their water.

As we evaluate over the next month or so, we will let you know where the contamination is, Chase said. Certainly, take precautions if you are concerned.

Garvin said that he doesnt think that, if he lived in the area outside of Blades, he would install a carbon filter. But I think that my wife probably would, he added.

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