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‘We’re looking at this closely’: Henrico testing private wells for potentially harmful chemicals

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 12:24 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 7:02 AM EST
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County is offering to test private wells near the White Oak Swamp Creek area for a potentially harmful chemical known as PFAS.

The testing of well water comes after an Oct. 28 notice from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) showed elevated levels of PFAS were found in water samples from the Chickahominy River Basin. Those samples were collected as part of a multi-year study by Newport News Waterworks (NNWW), which uses the river as a source of public drinking water.

“The results indicate elevated PFAS in samples taken approximately 20 miles upstream from Walker’s Dam in tributaries in the White Oak Swamp watershed,” a VDH press release said. “Elevated levels were observed in the upper reaches of the White Oak Swamp near the Richmond International Airport (RIC), but conclusive sources of PFAS from the NNWW sampling efforts need to be confirmed.”

The county’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) identified roughly 270 properties out in the area which is eligible to get their well water tested. For the folks collecting the samples, the process takes about 10 minutes.

Henrico prepares to test private wells due to concerns about PFAS chemicals.
Henrico prepares to test private wells due to concerns about PFAS chemicals.(Henrico County)

A team of roughly three to five people will travel from home to home collecting samples of the well water.

Following the October notice, Henrico County confirmed elevated PFAS readings in the White Oak Swamp Creek basin.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are long-lasting chemicals that are used in a variety of things like carpet, fabric and food packaging. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), long-term exposure to elevated levels of PFAS may be associated with health concerns.

Currently, the EPA’s preliminary health advisory level for PFAS is 70 parts per trillion.

“What Newport News found, and we later verified, was this was several times higher than that,” said DPU Director Bentley Chan. “But I will stress this was just found in the surface water.”

That is why Henrico DPU is collecting these well water samples, or essentially groundwater.

Each test will have two bottles that serve as the control (PFAS free) and two bottles of the well water coming out of a spigot.

“So, our lab is going to run both samples to make sure what they’re getting is a true indication of what, if anything, is in the drinking water,” Chan said.

Chan added the results are expected to come back within the next few weeks.

As for county-produced drinking water, that is safe based on testing earlier this year.

However, as these private wells are getting tested, Chan added there is no need to worry at this point. There is a team available to answer any questions you may have.

“We’re looking at this closely and really want to help,” he said.

On Nov. 16, VDH, DEQ and DPU hosted a webinar on the PFAS issue for residents, property owners and other members of the public.

The county created a webpage with resources and information on this project. It is also developing plans for how it will respond to the results of individual tests.

To sign up to have your private well tested for free in the area specified, contact DPU at water@henrico.us or (804) 501-7540.

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