County now supporting residents whose wells had elevated levels of chemicals
Henrico County’s testing of private wells near White Oak Swamp Creek found 88% had no detectable presence of potentially harmful chemicals known as PFAS. Among the samples taken from 259 residential wells, 30 had some level of PFAS, with two exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) preliminary health advisory level.
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is sharing the results with the respective residents and developing short- and long-term measures to address the issue. Options include further and ongoing testing, support for regular maintenance of wells, installation of treatment systems and ultimately connecting properties to the public water and wastewater systems. DPU also is providing bottled water to the homes served by wells that showed PFAS concentrations above the EPA’s preliminary health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
“Henrico’s extensive testing of private wells in the area of White Oak Swamp Creek is now complete and gives us a sense of what the needs of our community are,” DPU Director Bentley P. Chan said. “As we have been throughout this process, Henrico is committed to protecting the health and well-being of our community. To that end, we will continue to be transparent and proactive as we partner with residents as well as state and federal agencies to address this issue responsibly and as quickly as possible.”
Henrico’s well-testing initiative stems from an Oct. 28 notice from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that PFAS levels above the EPA’s health advisory level were found in samples of surface water from the Chickahominy River Basin. Those samples were collected as part of an ongoing study by Newport News Waterworks, which uses the Chickahominy River as a source for public drinking water.
Henrico confirmed the elevated PFAS levels in samples of surface water taken from White Oak Swamp Creek in November. Then, in collaboration with homeowners, DPU staff collected water samples from 259 wells in December – an increase from an initial plan to test 120 wells. The samples were tested by Enthalpy Analytical, a North Carolina-based environmental lab, at no cost to the homeowner.
Of the 259 samples, 229 showed no detectable levels of PFAS. Twenty-eight samples had PFAS levels ranging from 3 to 34 parts per trillion – below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Two samples exceeded the EPA’s standard, with levels of 86 and 128 parts per trillion.
In addition to providing technical and other support to residents, DPU is working with state agencies to analyze the test results. That review will consider the PFAS levels detected and the wells’ locations and depths, Chan said. He noted that the impacted wells are largely scattered, although some are in clusters.
PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are long-lasting chemicals used in a variety of products, including carpet, fabric and food packaging as well as firefighting and industrial products to resist water, grease and stains. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of PFAS may be associated with health concerns, according to the EPA.
State and federal agencies continue to investigate the potential source or sources of PFAS chemicals in the White Oak Swamp Creek area and whether further regulatory action is warranted, Chan said.
“As a county, we recognize the recent well testing answers some – but not all – of the questions we face in the White Oak area,” he said. “We are committed to working closely and openly with our residents, engaging with the appropriate federal and state agencies and doing everything in our power to safeguard the health and well-being of our community and the environment.”