New Hanover residents showed up in force at the auditorium of the Boyertown Junior High East School in Gilbertsville Tuesday night for a public comment hearing to get more answers from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about the future of their water supply after several wells were found contaminated last year.
Tension was felt as more than 60 area residents, confronted representatives from the DEP for nearly two hours about the agency’s latest proposal to install a municipal water supply waterline combined with restrictions on the use of groundwater. If the plan is approved, DEP promises to construct the waterline free of charge to the affected residents’ properties but residents will then have to pay monthly water bills for the utility.
The problem of onsite contamination at the former Swann Oil Company and later the Good Oil Company, on Layfield Road in the township was first discovered during an above-ground storage tank closure in 2007. Then, in June 2011, after conducting their own investigation, the Montgomery Country Health Department alerted DEP about samplings they took exposing high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) exceeding the safe drinking minimum containment level (MCL) in private wells along Layfield and Hoffmansville roads.
Diana Fabian, and her husband Wayne, live near the intersection of Layfield and Colflesh roads, a particular area that has been deemed by DEP to have extremely high traces of toxins, as well as in eight other neighboring wells.
She said she didn’t get the answer she was hoping to about what intrusion or damage to her property is expected if the public water line will be installed.
Fabian said her life has been inconvenienced since the time the contamination was first reported. Three carbon filters had to be installed immediately after DEP detected severe levels of toxic fumes in the house. She and her family now have to take showers with open windows. Every two weeks, all affected residents, like the Fabians, receive free cases of bottled water from DEP.
“We have vegetable garden which we live off all our food. We can’t use any water to wash our vegetables which means it requires us to carry gallons of water in and out of the house and then have enough space to store it,” Fabian said. “It just is inconvenient all around.”
Lynda Rebarchak, community relations coordinator for DEP, said the primary purpose of the latest meeting is not to offer proposals or recommendations but rather have a listening ear for concerns and questions residents might have.
“What we often find is that folks are angry. They’ve been used to free water and now it has been contaminated. A lot of times they direct that anger at us and that’s fine, we’re used to it. We understand their concerns and frustrations so what we try to do is guide them through the process and enable them to let us know their thoughts on our proposals,” Rebarchak said.
The investigation into the cause of the chemical contamination is continuing while the state moves towards providing a public water supply to those affected. However, the project cannot begin until after Jan. 18 when the public comment period ends. Officials hope to begin the construction as soon as possible.
Written comments on the DEP’s proposal to connect the affected homeowners to public water can be made to Colin R. Wade, Solid Waste Specialist, PA Dept. of Environmental Protection, 2 East Main St., Norristown, PA 19401.