LIMERICK — A well sample on a chemically contaminated site on Ridge Pike showed pollution levels 832 times the government safe drinking water standard.
However, state officials are still not sure the site is the source of the pollution that has fouled 22 area wells and will result in carbon filtration systems being installed in five homes as part of an effort to protect residents from the pollution’s effects.
The test result — 4,160 parts per billion — was revealed during a June 17 public hearing on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed “interim solution” to the groundwater pollution problem at what it is calling the “Landis Creek Site.”
The test was taken at the location of a former heating equipment company known as Roll Form on West Ridge Pike.
The safe drinking water sample for the pollutant, trichloroethylene, or TCE, is five parts per billion.
Dustin Armstrong, the DEP project officer for this pollution site, said the site was first identified in 1981 and after violations were found there, the site and neighboring properties were connected to public water in the early 1980s.
Roll Form has since closed.
Further investigations have looked into whether this site, or the former Limerick Carpet Cleaners across the street, are the source of the trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) that has been found at varying levels in 22 nearby private wells, but have so far failed to definitively identify the source of the wellwater pollution.
As many as 150 homeowners in the area of Ridge Pike, Royersford Road, North Township Line Road and Heffner Road have had their wells tested, but most of those wells were found to have no evidence of contamination, according to Armstrong.
Although the Roll Form site seems like a likely candidate for the contamination, Armstrong said, tests show the groundwater beneath the site flows south, toward Royersford Road, away from the areas to the north and east that have shown the most contamination.
“We’re still not sure Roll Form is the source,” Armstrong said during the DEP’s public hearing, held Wednesday evening in the Limerick Township Building, that was attended by about 40 people.
The primary purpose of the hearing was to outline the DEP’s proposed response to the pollution, which is to pay for the installation of full-home carbon filtration systems on five homes where levels of TCE and/or PCE are above the five-parts-per-billion safety standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency for both contaminants.
TCE, the more prevalent of the two, is part of a family of chemical pollutants known as “volatile organic compounds.” It has been linked to having a “significant bearing on excess lifetime cancer risks,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The other 22 homes where TCE or PCE have been detected in the well water have levels below the five-parts-per-billion standard and DEP has proposed no action on those wells so long as those levels remain low, Armstrong said.
He said the cost of installing the filtration systems and maintaining them for two years would cost taxpayers $44,000, whereas the cost of extending the nearby public water system and hooking up all the homes carried an estimated price tag of $2.5 million.
A third option, continuing to provide bottled water to the affected homes, priced out at $30,000, he said.
Armstrong said a comparison of costs over three years showed the average home would incur $1,025 in costs with a filtration system, but $1,800 in public water bills, assuming a monthly bill of $50.
Because the contamination levels in the homes are comparatively low — the highest was just under 70 parts-per-billion — Armstrong’s presentation indicated the carbon filters would last longer and require changing less frequently.
In addition to receiving the filtration systems, the five homes with the worst contamination must also have “environmental covenants” attached to their deeds, said William Blasberg, from DEP legal expert.
Those covenants would restrict the use of water from the well until tests showed that the contamination had dissipated and the water tested met the safe drinking water standard.
That, and the proposed filtration solution, won little praise from those who came to listen and to speak Wednesday.
Limerick Supervisor Elaine DeWan, who was joined at the hearing by fellow supervisors Joseph St. Pedro and Thomas Neafcy, said by requiring the covenants “you’re telling people their property values are going to be reduced drastically.”
Pat Webster, who said she has been selling real estate with Century 21/Alliance for 11 years, said providing public water to these homes would protect and increase their property value.
“From a buyer’s perspective, nothing compares to public water and sewer,” Webster said. “That filtration system will be a constant reminder of the problem that lives on the other side of that filter.”
Richard Soto does not need a reminder.
He lives in one of the homes with elevated contamination levels requiring a carbon filtration system.
Soto has lived most of his life within earshot of the home he now occupies on North Township Line Road “and since the time I was 11 or 12 years old, the water’s been bad there, and I’m 50 now, so that’s a long time.”
He told the DEP officials, “I think you’re rolling the dice here and hoping it solves the problem, but I don’t think its going to solve the problem any time soon.”
However, the problem may be on the way to solving itself.
Armstrong noted that when the area’s contamination was first investigated, the contamination levels were higher than the ones seen in the most recent tests.
“Compared with the data we took in the mid-to-late 90s on Heffner Road and Landis Creek Lane, the levels are dropping. Hopefully that trend continues,” he said. “The trend seems to be downward.”
As part of the proposed interim solution, DEP will continue to conduct soil tests and well tests, and install monitoring wells to try to better determine the direction the plume of pollution is taking.
The official public comment period on the proposed solution will remain open until Aug. 22.
Official comments may be emailed to Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to him at the Department of Environmental Protection, Southeast Office, 2 Main St., Norristown, PA 19401.