U.S. Navy hosts open house meeting as water testing for potential PFAS looms

HAMPDEN TOWNSHIP, Cumberland County, Pa. --- The U.S. Navy is taking its first step in a broader investigation of drinking water.

Naval Support Activity Mechanicsburg officials invited people to an informational open house Wednesday evening at the Park Inn on Carlisle Pike.

The Navy is trying to determine if potentially health hazardous chemicals, known as PFAS, went into the groundwater and contaminated private drinking water wells.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued lifetime health advisory for two commonly used and studied PFAS.

Navy officials believe the most common activity that could've resulted in PFAS entering the environment was the historical use of firefighting foam on the base.

Based on a groundwater study and an assessment of areas where the chemicals were used and stored on the base, about a mile sampling area to the west and north sides of the Mechanicsburg base are under the scope.

Capt. Kyle Bryan said they're prioritizing neighboring communities first before testing their own water, on-base.

He said they are targeting properties that use private drinking wells for water samples to determine if there is a PFAS issues.

“The communities around us do such a great job supporting us, we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing, supporting them in return," said Capt. Bryan.

The open house Wednesday night allowed people to learn about PFAS and the potential situation from officials with the EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

People were encouraged to sign up to get free water testing done on their properties, if they feel within the preliminary sample area.

Capt. Bryan said based on the initial results, the sample area could expand, if needed.

He explained that if a water test comes back positive for PFAS, Navy officials say they will provide bottled water and work on a long-term plan with the effected property owners.

“If we can do the testing and it comes back negative, great, then that’s peace of mind, right? And if it is, in fact, positive, then we have an action plan to work with owners of the property to move forward so we can get them off of that water," said Capt. Bryan.

John Thomas, of Silver Spring Township, said he received a letter about getting his private water well tested.

He signed up for the free testing Wednesday and says he doesn't have concerns yet.

“I would like to find out, make sure that everything is ok and safe. I haven’t had any problems, I’ve lived at the address for 29 years so I don’t know. Should be ok, hopefully,” said Thomas.

Elaine Durham, of Hampden Township, said she falls just outside the current sample area.

She said she would like to have her water tested.

“My property is like creek-front. I know everything flows down into the Conodoguient so it does concern me because I’m right downstream,” said Durham.

Olivia Broy, of Silver Spring Township, also falls outside the current sample area.

A new homeowner in the area as of May, Broy said she started using bottled water after noticing unusual health changes in her pets while using the well water.

“I was hoping that a well would be a good thing so I wouldn’t have as many bills but I just want to make sure it’s safe for myself, and I have a dog and fish so I want to make sure it’s safe for all of us," said Broy.

Hampden Township Board of Commissioners President Al Bienstock said to their knowledge, PFAS would've been in the groundwater for a long time.

He said they plan to keep residents up to date as the water testing situation develops, including on the township website.

“People need to be aware that there are concerns about the chemicals that may be in this foam but it’s not something that automatically, all of a sudden, is going to hit you and cause some damage.”

Capt. Bryan said nearly 40 people had already signed up for testing before the open house.

About 50 people attended the open house Wednesday evening.

Capt. Bryan said the collection of water testing in the sample area will start Thursday, August 1.

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