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Firefighting foam chemicals found in NASA site wells

NASA is supplementing the town’s supply of water while more testing is ongoing

Associated Press

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. — NASA is providing extra drinking water for Chincoteague after chemicals used in firefighting foam were found in some wells on the Wallops Flight Facility property that supply the town.

Chincoteague and NASA worked out the arrangement after testing in recent weeks found the chemicals in four of the town’s seven wells, officials said.

The town’s drinking water comes from a mix of the wells, and all tests of the finished product have shown it is safe to drink, according to NASA. But some wells with higher levels of the chemicals were taken offline, so NASA is supplementing the town’s supply while more testing is ongoing.

The chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl, are referred to as PFAS. They were used in a wide variety of consumer products since the 1950s but have mostly been phased out. The potential health effects of human exposure to the compounds are not fully understood, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued health advisory limits for them last year.

Wallops said in a statement that firefighters previously conducted training on the north-central side of the main base with a firefighting foam that contained PFAS compounds.

After the EPA advisory was issued last year, NASA decided to conduct water-quality testing, Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers said. The testing was conducted by an independent lab, and the results are being shared with state and federal health agencies, he said.

Initial tests of the town’s drinking water detected PFAS but at levels below the advisory set by the EPA. Tests of individual wells detected PFAS in one of four deep wells and three shallow ones. In two of the shallow wells and the deep well, it was detected at a level above the health advisory, according to a NASA statement.

The town then began using only the three deep wells where no PFAS was found to produce drinking water. The second round of drinking water testing showed a lower level of PFAS and the third round showed none at all, Eggers said.

Chincoteague already had a water system hookup to Wallops, so getting the augmented supply going wasn’t difficult, Town Manager Jim West said.

He said he felt fairly certain that with the extra supply the town could make it through the busy summer tourist season. NASA is not charging Chincoteague for the extra water, he said.

The small town sits on Chincoteague Island on the state’s Eastern Shore. It is best known for the annual crossing of wild ponies from Assateague Island memorialized in Marguerite Henry’s novel “Misty of Chincoteague.”

Testing of both the town and NASA’s water supplies will continue biweekly “for the foreseeable future,” and NASA will work with the EPA and state Departments of Health and Environmental Quality on a long-term plan, Eggers said.

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