Get our newsletters

Firefighting foam suspected cause of Rockhill water contamination


Firefighting foam used to battle a large scale tire fire at Bergey’s Tire and Auto Center back in 1986 could be the source of well water contamination that persists to this day at homes near the blaze site in West Rockhill and East Rockhill, an investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection indicates.

In a Nov. 12 communication, DEP said Bergey’s could be responsible for environmental investigations and cleanup at what’s known as the Ridge Run site, which is located along portions of Old Bethlehem Pike, Bethlehem Pike, Tabor Road, Hill Road and North Rockhill Road.

The letter noted that DEP was not, at this point, issuing a final action notice and Bergey’s was, as of this writing, not required to do anything.

Launched in 2016, DEP’s investigation centered on perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in wells in the Ridge Run area. Present in firefighter foam, PFAS don’t break down in the environment and are suspected of being tied to health problems that range from cancer and immune system issues, to lower birth weight and developmental problems.

DEP noted that its investigation began in 2016 after a public water well was identified as having combined concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that exceeded the Health Advisory Level (HAL) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) – a level established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The well had served several dozen homes, DEP said. After the discovery, however, authorities connected homes to a different water supply, according to DEP. Over the next couple years, environmental investigators for the state sampled private wells serving 150 homes in the area, discovering that 14 residences had water with contamination above the 70 ppt level.

In 2019, a contractor for DEP, EnviroTrac, installed monitoring wells in the area and performed soil, sediment, surface water and ground water sampling at the Bergey’s property, which is located at 1419 Bethlehem Pike in West Rockhill. The testing showed PFOS and PFOA contamination at the site – a finding that fueled a DEP determination that the property is a source of PFAS.

The chemicals could have infiltrated soil and water as a result of the firefighting foam used to battle the massive blaze 33 years ago. Area residents have maintained that’s the source of their water pollution.

“We understand these investigations can take longer than expected and that the process can be frustrating to those living with impacts,” said DEP Southeast Regional Director Pat Patterson. “We appreciate the community’s assistance in this investigation and their ongoing patience and coordination.”

Homeowners whose wells tested above the 70 ppt have not been able to use their water for commonplace activities like cooking and drinking, instead relying on bottled water. DEP says it’s working with these homeowners to install in-house treatment systems that, if properly maintained, will make their water potable. “We are installing them on a rolling basis and hope to have all of them completed by the end of the year,” DEP said in a letter to locals.

Going forward, DEP and EnviroTrac say they aim to work with Bergey’s to identify what additional sampling might be needed to determine the full extent of the contamination – and what clean-up options will be best.

“We still have much work to do,” said Patterson.

East Rockhill Township continues to support a permanent long-term solution with public water connection to all impacted properties,” said Township Manager Marianne Morano