NBC Philadelphia: Exclusive look at new technology fighting forever chemicals in water at naval air base

May 14, 2024 | News

Studies investigating forever chemicals, or PFAs, in the water coming from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove are looking at the possible correlations those chemicals have to cancer.

We have an exclusive look at the new technology being tested on the base that is leading the effort to get these forever chemicals out of the water.

It’s a moment of celebration for two local women who took their fight for clean water from Warminster to the White House this year.

It’s been quite the mission for Joanne Stanton and Hope Grosse.

Grosse recorded while she and Stanton collected water samples near the military base where they grew up at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station.

The women want to know if dangerous per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called forever chemicals, are still in the water which the EPA confirmed more than a decade ago came from the firefighting foam on base.

“We played in that creek. We, you know, we, our well was in the front lawn,” Grosse said.

Now that they know the CDC is learning five of 11 cancers studied in a 12-county area in Pennsylvania, including Montgomery and Bucks, correlate with high levels of PFAs in the water near the base, their urgency to get it out of the water feels validated.

“About three months after my dad passed, I ended up with stage four cancer,” Grosse explained.

Grosse was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was one of the five, as well as thyroid, kidney, ovarian and endometrial. They still don’t know if it correlates with the brain cancer that attacked Stanton’s son, Patrick, at six years old.

“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life is watching a small child who is healthy and vibrant and smart slowly fade into a disabled adult because the long-term effects of cancer and its treatments,” Stanton said.

But, this year brought a new sense of hope.

The women stood in a room as President Joe Biden ordered PFAs to be removed from the country’s water supply by 2029.

The same day, the Environmental Protection Agency announced federal safety limits for PFAs chemicals in drinking water should be no more than four parts per trillion.

The agency says the base at Willow Grove once showed 300,000 PPT.

“The chemicals are filterable. You can get them out through carbon filtration,” U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean said.

Congresswoman Dean was one of the first politicians to fight for filtration.

Two competing technologies are being tested at Willow Grove to see how effective they are at absorbing the chemicals out of the water.

One company, ECT2, uses ion exchange resin to absorb the PFAs at the source.

“We submit that to the state,” Carl Bigney, who sends the water testing monthly, told NBC10.

Results requested by NBC10 for last month showed “Non-detectable” levels of PFAs after the treatment.

Cyclopure is another company conducting tests at the base.

Their technology also showed good results and the Department of Defense has asked them to scale up their cleanup.

And, while this looks promising, Rep. Dean says there is still work to be done.

“I wanted to and will continue to press forward on is to give people a cause of action to get ahead of any health concerns and to hold the manufacturers accountable for that monitoring,” Dean said.

PFAs manufacturer 3M says in part, “we will continue to work to address legacy PFAS,” and that it will stop making PFAs by the end of 2025.

The other manufacturers we reached out to either have no comment or have not yet replied.

For Dean, holding them accountable is personal after her own brother served and worked on this joint base.

“My brother just passed in November,” she told NBC10.

“DAV urges Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a concession of exposure for all veterans who served at military locations with PFAS water contamination, including Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, in order to remove the burden of veterans having to prove their exposures to PFAS and ease their ability to establish direct service connection for their disabilities. We also urge VA Secretary Denis McDonough and the Toxic Exposures Research Work Group, which the PACT Act requires to be created in to study toxic exposures and associated negative health impacts, to create PFAS exposure presumptives for decreased antibody response; dyslipidemia; increased risk of kidney cancer; increased risk of breast cancer; liver enzyme alterations; increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension; increased risk of testicular cancer; thyroid disease and dysfunction; increased risk of ulcerative colitis; and liver cancer,” DAV Deputy National Legislative Director Shane Lierman said in a statement to NBC10.

And while they will never know whether his cancer was connected to his time on base, she, along with Grosse and Stanton, say their advocacy has to continue.

“We are going to fight and we are going to get changes in laws to protect other people. And we’re not gonna stop until we have a drinking water standard. We’re not gonna stop until PFAS is deemed a hazardous substance under CERCLA. And we’re almost there,” Stanton said.

Read original article