Unwell water

A GateHouse Media public service project

Part of the original runway from the Johnsville Naval Air Development Center can still be seen at Warminster Community Park Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. [BILL FRASER / FILE]


Since 2014, 22 public wells and about 200 private wells have been shut down by contamination from perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS. The former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham, along with the active Horsham Air Guard Station, are thought to be the source of the taint in Pennsylvania, while Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is investigating the extent of contamination there.

Reporters Kyle Bagenstose and Jenny Wagner have been investigating and writing extensively on the topic, telling the stories of local people who believe they’ve been sickened by the chemicals, speaking with health experts on the potential toxicity of the chemicals, and examining the actions taken by local, state and federal agencies as they address the contamination.





Five years after discovery, chemical concerns linger

As several states begin fighting with the U.S. military over growing firefighting chemical contamination within their borders, others are struggling to even devise a strategy after decades of reliance on the Environmental Protection Agency to set safety standards.

In a collaboration between the Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer in Pennsylvania, the Wisconsin State Journal and Daily News-Miner of Alaska examines how regulators in those states find themselves hamstrung by a lack of knowhow and staffing, or restricted by state laws from moving quickly. Read more



EPA inaction leaves states stumbling to address contamination

As several states begin fighting with the U.S. military over growing firefighting chemical contamination within their borders, others are struggling to even devise a strategy after decades of reliance on the Environmental Protection Agency to set safety standards.

In a collaboration between the Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer in Pennsylvania, the Wisconsin State Journal and Daily News-Miner of Alaska examines how regulators in those states find themselves hamstrung by a lack of knowhow and staffing, or restricted by state laws from moving quickly. Read more



Military challenging states on $2 billion chemical liability

The Department of Defense is investigating firefighting chemical contamination at hundreds of bases across all 50 states, and its liabilities likely reach into the billions of dollars. A handful of states are pushing the DOD to begin cleaning up the chemicals, but have been met with swift opposition.

Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico and New York have emerged as leading battleground states in the fight to get the military to do more to address PFAS cleanup. Read more




Unclear and uncertain danger

Iwona Jodlowska was seeking answers about her husband’s health, but only found questions about her own.

Sitting at a coffee shop in Warminster in January 2016, the 53-year-old Warminster resident looked over a wealth of information this news organization had compiled about a pair of chemical compounds called PFOA and PFOS.

Part of a class of chemicals called perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS had been found 1½ years earlier in public and private water wells in parts of Warminster, Horsham and Warrington adjacent to military facilities.

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency showed the areas were among the most contaminated in the nation: samples from the three townships were among the 10 highest for both perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) nationwide. Read more



Looking below the surface

When firefighting foam is used to put out fuel fires on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- during training exercises or emergencies -- the brilliant white chemical solution can cover the ground like snow.

But what happens to it next is a murky gray.

The joint base is in the midst of an investigation into the potential dangers of the use of the foam as part of an assessment the U.S. Department of Defense is conducting at hundreds of military bases across the country.

The aqueous film-forming foams have been used by the military for decades, but the chemical byproducts of the foam have been associated with health effects for humans and animals only in the past 15 years. Read more



Left behind

Paul Lutz spent 12 years working on the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and says he has been following the headlines about water contaminated with perfluorinated compounds in the area over the past several months.

But there’s one thing missing, the 44-year-old Lehigh County resident says.

“Nobody’s talking about the men and women who served on the base,” Lutz said.

For Lutz and others like him, that’s a problem. He’s one of the most active members of a Facebook group of more than 1,600 people, mainly veterans and their family members, who believe their time at “The Grove” made them sick because of perceived exposures to various chemicals. Read more



Taking a closer look

Mary Onufrey doesn’t put much stock in what “they” say anymore.

“I don’t believe them,” the 70-year-old Warminster resident said of military and government officials when asked about a recent study on cancer in the area by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “I think they are trying to get themselves out of deep trouble.”

The federal agency, an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, together with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, studied nearly 30 years of data on seven types of cancers in three ZIP codes. The ATSDR said the results were “inconclusive” and the area didn’t meet the CDC’s definition of a “cancer cluster.”

This news organization decided to take a second look. Read more



Military knew of foam dangers in 2001

By 2001, the U.S. military knew firefighting foams used at bases across the country could break down into toxic chemicals, that the chemicals had entered streams and groundwater at several military bases, and that they could potentially be polluting drinking water wells.

But despite one Department of Defense employee’s prediction that phasing out the foams could be an environmental task rivaling the magnitude of asbestos removal, the military continued to use the foams -- without investigating whether anyone on or off the bases had been sickened, according to military records and emails.

The records were obtained by Philadelphia law firm Williams Cuker Berezofsky, which is suing the federal government over groundwater contamination near a trio of former and current military bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The firm provided this news organization with an exclusive look at the 170 documents, totaling more than 3,100 pages and spanning the 1970s to this year. Read more



'On their radar screens'

By 1995, U.S. Department of Defense employees knew firefighting foams used across the country could potentially contaminate drinking water sources with perfluorinated chemicals, according to documents reviewed by this news organization. But no drinking water supplies, including those in Bucks and Montgomery counties, were tested until nearly two decades later.

During that time span, various studies linked the chemicals to a variety of health effects, including developmental issues in children, high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis and some cancers.

The documents push back when personnel first expressed concerns about potential drinking water contamination from 2001, the year initially identified in documents reviewed during our ongoing investigation. Read more