Water worries tap frustration near former bases

Less than a week after new federal guidelines effectively doubled the number of contaminated public water wells near the former naval air bases at Willow Grove and Warminster, residents lined up out the door for an open house with environmental and military officials.

"What are they going to do? How bad is it?" asked Sherri Meier, 50, of Warminster, who said she did not want to drink tap water even though the public water supply has been deemed safe.

For some among those who packed the room at the Horsham Township Community Center and roamed among the information tables, answers were wanting.

"Nothing," said Patti Crossan, 45, a lifelong Warminster resident, who said she would not give the water to her dog. "We got nothing," she said as she left the open house with a neighbor.

It has been two years since it was announced that drinking water in Horsham, Warminster, and Warrington Townships had been tainted by firefighting foams used at the bases.

The first public drinking water wells were shut down in 2014; more in each township were closed last week in response to the new Environmental Protection Agency rules.

In total, 16 public wells have been closed. In the three townships, 342 private wells have been tested with 116 found to have unacceptable levels of the perfluorinated compounds, according to the EPA.

The chemicals have been linked to cancer and reproductive issues.

People with affected private wells have been given bottled water and are being hooked up to public-water supplies. The Navy is paying to bring in outside water to supplement the public supply.

So far, the Navy has spent about $19 million to treat the problem, said Gregory C. Preston, a Base Closure and Realignment Commission program director.

"We are prepared to spend whatever necessary to make this right," he said. "I don't think there is a cap."

Residents remain worried about potential health effects, and many are drinking bottled water that the state began providing to residents free last week.

For Maureen McNeil, 50, and her husband, Kevin, 49, the open house did nothing to allay their concerns.

"I don't feel like coming here made it any better," Maureen McNeil said.

The McNeils, who bought their Horsham house 16 years ago, said their private well was found acceptable, but they feared that might change.

Many said that they had expected an information question-and-answer session with officials, rather than the information-table format, and that the materials offered weren't helpful enough.

"You need to be a scientist to figure this out," said Kevin McNeil.

A second open house will take place Wednesday at the community center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

jmcdaniel@philly.com

610-313-8205 @McDanielJustine