For the first time, federal health officials have signaled their support for blood testing and health monitoring of Bucks and Montgomery Counties residents who drank water contaminated by firefighting foams used on military bases, Pennsylvania lawmakers said Thursday.
That was the highlight of a Washington meeting where legislators and local officials met with representatives of the Pentagon, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the water contamination that has roiled their communities.
"I'm glad we can check one item off of our list - a health study commitment by the CDC," said Sen. Robert Casey (D., Pa.), who arranged the meeting.
But whether such monitoring will occur - and who would pay for it - remains unclear.
In a statement released by his office, Casey said the CDC estimated that a five-year health monitoring study could cost as much as $30 million, and that could be a barrier to tracking the potentially thousands of residents impacted by the contamination at the bases in Willow Grove and Warminster.
Efforts to reach the CDC late Thursday were unsuccessful.
Nearly half of public drinking wells serving thousands of residents and dozens of private wells have been shut down in Horsham, Warrington, and Warminster since 2014, due to contaminants that leached into drinking water from firefighting foams used at the former naval air stations.
The foam contained the compounds PFOS and PFOA, which have been linked to certain types of cancer and other health issues.
Elected officials representing the communities in the state legislature and Congress say the federal government - through the military or environmental agencies - should spearhead the cleanup and pay for blood testing and health studies.
The Navy has previously told lawmakers it would not fund such a study because it was not advised by health officials.
State Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery), who lives in Horsham and attended Thursday's meeting, said the federal agency representatives appeared to recognize the importance of health studies because similar contamination has been found in drinking water near bases across the country.
"One of the things that they acknowledged is that this is an exploding national issue," he said after the meeting. "And they really want to get some good data going nationally. They really would like to ultimately conduct a national study."
Casey said another issue discussed at the meeting was the difficulty local officials have had communicating with multiple federal agencies. Officials committed to increasing coordination efforts, he said.
At a separate meeting Thursday, three Philadelphia-area House members pressed a top Department of Defense official to take further action and address the water contamination.
In a statement, Democrat Brendan Boyle and Republicans Patrick Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick said they asked Maureen Sullivan, a deputy assistant secretary of defense overseeing the nationwide response to foam contamination, to fund cleanup efforts and cover local water-rate increases beyond what has been promised by the Navy.