Chemical found in water of 6 Rose Valley homes

TROUT RUN — Traces of a potentially harmful chemical found in a residential well near Rose Valley Lake has led to bottled water being brought to five occupied impacted homes. A sixth impacted rental property is vacant.

The state Department of Environmental Protection began its investigation into the levels of trichloroethylene — a chemical commonly used as a degreaser and parts cleaner — after preliminary testing by a natural gas company in October 2017 found traces of the chemical, said Megan Lehman, environmental community relations specialist, for the DEP.

During the gas company’s routine baseline testing before beginning activity on a gas well pad, the compound — also referred to as TCE — was detected in a sample collected in a home well near the northeast shore of Rose Valley Lake.

“TCE was detected in this well at a concentration of 17 parts per billion, which is greater than the Statewide Health Standard in drinking water of five parts per billion,” Lehman said. “Retesting of the well verified that TCE was present at a concentration greater than the standard.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, short-term and long-term exposures to TCE can cause irritation to the respiratory system, skin and central nervous system. The chemical is a carcinogen, which can be associated with effects in the liver, kidneys, immune system and central nervous system. DEP’s main concern is with any resident living in a home with elevated TCE levels consuming the drinking water or using it to bathe or cook over an extended period of time.

After the initial report, DEP collected samples from the first well and another nearby. Those samples were analyzed by the DEP’s Bureau of Laboratories and results confirmed the presence of TCE in the water supplies, Lehman said.

Furthering its investigation, DEP sampled 24 additional homes between November 2017 and January 2018. Twenty-six homes were sampled in total. Out of those 26, six were found to contain TCE in the water supply above one parts per billion. One home is vacant, Lehman said. The homes are located north and northeast of Rose Valley Lake on Lake and Rose Valley roads and Kibbe and Drifty lanes.

As an immediate, but interim measure, DEP is providing bottled drinking water for the five affected occupied homes, but determined that any home with higher concentrations in their water supply should have a treatment system installed.

Activated carbon-based treatment systems on the water supplies of those six impacted homes will be installed as long-term protection going forward. Those systems are expected to be completed by late spring. Bottled water will be supplied to impacted residents until then.

The source of the TCE is unknown, but DEP said it’s still investigating. Lehman did add that the chemical is not one that is commonly used by the natural gas industry.

Winter conditions have stalled sampling of the lake itself. But because of the volume of water in the lake, it is expected that any potential contamination would be “extremely diluted,” Lehman said.

DEP is unsure as of Wednesday of a potential for the chemical to spread to other homes, but said the investigation will continue and it will be monitoring any changes.

A public meeting and hearing will be held at 6 p.m. March 26 at the Gamble Township Community Hall, 17 Beech Valley Road, Trout Run.