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PFAS in Dover wells up to 2,400 times above federal health advisory

State and U.S. Air Force officials announced last month that four drinking water wells near Dover Air Force Base were found to be contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. 


Officials now confirm the contaminated private wells are located northwest of the base. They say concentrations of combined PFOA and PFOS in the wells tested between 1,800 and 170,000 parts per trillion, well above the EPA’s unenforceable health advisory limit for the two PFAS chemicals of 70 parts per trillion. 

The five businesses, two residences and one office building the contaminated wells supply are being provided bottled water by the Air Force Base. Officials say the four contaminated wells were among roughly 30 tested this June in the first phase of an “expanded site inspection” near two historic PFOS and PFOA release areas on the Dover Air Force Base. Air Force officials plan to release well testing results to additional area residents once the results are validated.

PFOS and PFOA were present in firefighting foam previously used at the Dover Air Force Base. They have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. 

Last week Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Defense requesting more information about the PFAS contamination near the Dover Air Force Base — including groundwater testing results and a map of contaminated wells. Carper says officials should use the “Golden Rule” in dealing with the affected residents and businesses. 

“If I were in their shoes I’d want to have immediate access to safe drinking water. I’d want to be assured that the situation is not getting any worse,” he said. “I’d want to make sure that someone’s planning on how to clean up this contamination. And, if possible, to maybe have access to a municipal source of water.”

The letter also asks for a remediation plan and a feasibility assessment for putting the affected properties on municipal water.

“If the contamination comes directly from a military base, my mind is that the military— the Department of Defense— has some responsibility to restore some security, confidence, peace of mind to the folks whose lives have been disrupted,” said Carper. 

As of Friday, Carper said he had not received a response from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Dover Air Force Base officials continue to examine the need to test other areas for potential contamination and plan to contact residents before any sampling occurs. 

They say if PFAS contamination likely caused by the Air Force is found, clean water will be immediately provided — in the form of bottled water, filtration systems or connection to public water.

The Air Force has been responding to contamination of drinking water supplies at Dover Air Force Base with PFOS and PFOA since 2014.  In 2016, the Department of Defense found levels of the chemicals in the groundwater there up to 2.8 million parts per trillion—40,000 times higher than the EPA health advisory level.

Sen. Carper says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown a lack of urgency on the of PFAS contamination. He has been pushing for federal legislation designating PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under EPA’s Superfund law, a move he said in a statement would “unleash federal powers to clean up contaminated drinking water supplies and hold polluters accountable.” He is also backing legislation that would require a federal drinking water standard be set for PFAS within two years. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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