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Officials continue to find wells near Dover AFB suspected of having high PFAS levels

Delaware Public Media

More private drinking wells near the Dover Air Force Base are suspected of having elevated levels of PFAS chemicals. 

Preliminary results from tests conducted by the United States Air Force (USAF) show two wells near the base have possible elevated levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)—each part of a group of synthetic chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

That’s in addition to the four Dover wells confirmed last summer to have elevated levels of the cancer causing chemicals up to 2,400 times the 70 parts per trillion federal lifetime health advisory level.  The chemicals were present in firefighting foam previously used on the base. 

Dover Air Force Base Remedial Project Manager Joe Kowalski says the two wells most recently testing for high levels were overlooked last fall when officials decided to test all shallow wells within a mile of the base, and down radius from two historic release sights for the chemicals. 

He says one well was inactive at the time and the other wasn’t shown on the map being used. 

“We were given information that showed an entire area [sic] in map form as being on city water, on Dover water, but the map only has such fine detail, such granularity, that individual properties that aren’t on city water aren’t really displayed on that map,” said Kowalski.      

The two wells each provide water to a commercial business. The owners have been notified and provided with bottled water by the base, according to a release from The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

The same release says no PFOS or PFOA have been detected in five nearby municipal water wells tested by Dover AFB’s water supplier, Tidewater Utilities.

Kowalski says the five businesses, two residences and one office building served by the original four wells that tested high are expected to be outfitted with filtration systems next week. He says it’s taking longer than expected to hook those properties up to municipal water.

“This project is a much larger project than initially thought,” he said. “It appears that we’re going to have to extend a water main pipeline to serve these properties. So, it’s going to take longer than expected.”     

Kowalski adds efforts continue at the base to coordinate with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DNREC to test other wells in the area. He says a few properties have still yet to be tested due to “owner access issues.”

The preliminary results from the latest wells found to have elevated PFAS levels are expected to be validated within 30 days. Officials are not releasing the data until then.

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.

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