(Delmarva Now) -- Chincoteague officials took a step Monday to ensure the safety of the town's future water supply, after chemicals used in firefighting foam were found earlier this year in existing town wells.
The town council voted unanimously, with Councilman Edward W. Lewis Jr. absent, to spend $28,300 to drill an exploratory well on property the town has an option to buy.
The parcel is on the mainland, adjacent to a parcel owned by the Department of the Interior, and south of and across Route 175 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
A.C. Schultes of Bridgeville, Delaware, will do the work, including testing and analysis.
The seven wells that provide Chincoteague's drinking water are on NASA Wallops Flight Facility property, on the mainland. A pipe carries the water across, near the Chincoteague causeway, to the island's water-treatment facility.
NASA is continuing to monitor contaminant levels in the wells and the agency has developed a timetable to provide filtration to remove the substances from the town's shallow wells by December or January, Town Manager James West told the council.
Tests of Chincoteague’s drinking water in spring found per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances — but they were at a level below the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory, according to NASA.
NASA decided to conduct water-quality testing after the EPA issued health advisory limits for the chemicals last year.
The substances, known as PFAS, are manmade compounds used extensively in a wide variety of consumer products — and in a firefighting foam.
The former firefighting training area for the Wallops facility is located on the north-central side of the NASA Wallops main base.
Tests of individual wells detected PFAS in one of four deep wells and three shallow ones. In two of the shallow wells and the deep well, it ultimately was detected at a level above the health advisory, according to a NASA statement in May.
Initially, it appeared the PFAS discovered in the deepwater well came from a pipe shared by a shallow well, and it was thought once the shallow well was turned off and the pipe was flushed, the deep well would be in the clear.
But in a July update to the town council, West said NASA reported it had discovered traces of the chemical in "a couple of the deep wells."
NASA decided to treat the water from the shallow wells so the town could resume using those wells.
Additionally, the town has been able to tap into NASA's water supply to supplement its own, utilizing an arrangement worked out in the early 2000s but never used until now.
West said in an Aug. 2 memorandum to the mayor and town council that the town "should also approach NASA for assistance" if the exploratory well yields positive results.
"Are they giving us any financial assistance right now for this?" Vice Mayor Denise Bowden said, adding, "My personal feeling is that they need to be held accountable in some way, shape or form."
NASA's solution is to provide filtration to the contaminated wells, West said.
"It's the direct approach," he said.
He said his plan is to approach the agency with the idea that it could help the town develop the new supply "in lieu of spending a lot of money on filtration."
"I don't know if it's far-fetched or not," he said.
Even if that assistance is not forthcoming, West said he still recommends the town go ahead with developing the new well field if the aquifer looks promising, "because it's our future."
The existing wells are on an easement, West noted, adding, "To have our future wells on property we own in fee simple would be terrific for the town — that's security."
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