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"How long?" Blades residents ask, after PFCs found in drinking water

Blades residents stopped by the town’s volunteer fire company on Friday to get cases of water – one of the first steps the state is taking to help residents after learning the town’s drinking water supply is contaminated.

As Kahla Rickers pulled her car up to volunteers who loaded two cases of water into her car, she couldn’t help but ask:

“Do we have any idea how long this is going to last?”

A lot of Blades residents have the same question after learning Thursday night the town’s three drinking wells have high concentrations of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

PFCs are a chemical compound found in things like cookware and microwave popcorn. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control recently sampled the town’s water supply for emerging contaminants because of nearby historic plating operations, said Tim Ratsep a program administrator for DNREC.

“We just found these results,” Ratsep said. “And we’re out here addressing this out of abundance of caution.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says any concentrations of PFCs above 70 parts per trillion are unsafe to drink. High concentrations of PFCs are associated with health issues like cancer and liver problems.

The state found concentrations as high as nearly 190 parts per trillion that they worry could affect more than 450 homes and businesses hooked up to the town’s water. 

And those concentrations worry Kahla Rickers.

“I’m concerned just because we don’t know how long it’s been affected, we don’t know how long it’s going to remain affected, so it’s just an inconvenience at this point,” Rickers said, shortly after volunteers gave her two cases of water.

Many residents told state and city officials and volunteers that they had recently used their tap water and are worried. Officials say immediate exposure isn’t bad, but longterm exposure could cause health problems.

“I was kind of frightened because I had just irrigated my sinuses with water and so I didn’t take any of it in, but I was a little concerned,” said resident John Caggiano, after he picked up water for himself and his wife, Catherine. 

Delaware's Congressional delegation, including Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Tom Carper, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del) released a statement on the contamination Friday afternoon. They said their immediate goal is to ensure there are enough emergency water resources in town during this time, and they encourage residents to reach out to their offices if they have questions or concerns.

“Access to safe and clean drinking water is an absolutely essential and basic human necessity, and we are extremely troubled by the situation in Blades," Carper, Coons and Blunt Rochester said.

When the state alerted Blades officials of the contamination Thursday late afternoon, Town Administrator Vikki Prettyman said she wanted to do everything she could so panic would not ensue among the town's 1,400 residents. Prettyman said town officials have been working to educate the public about PFCs and what happened to the water.

"It's just a matter of educating ourselves and getting all that information out so that the public is fully aware of what it is," Prettyman said.

Ratsep said the state will continue to provide water for drinking and cooking until the state finds a more permanent solution. The town’s water is still safe for bathing and laundry, officials said.

The state is continuing to evaluate the situation, Ratsep said. DNREC is speaking with the EPA about getting more resources to the state and what the possibilities of a long term solution are.

When a similar situation happened in New Castle, the state treated the affected well with carbon. Ratsep said the state could also look into drilling deeper wells, but said they won’t know what the best solution is until further investigation.

Governor John Carney authorized the Delaware National Guard to help out this weekend. They'll bring two 400-gallon portable water tanks on site so residents can fill up their own jugs or cases with water.

This post has been updated. An earlier version misspelled DNREC program administrator Tim Ratsep's name.

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