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At Army’s request, EPA deletes website reference to request for PFAS tests of creeks in former Seneca Army Depot

  • / Updated:
  • Peter Mantius 

At the request of the U.S. Army, the EPA has deleted from its website a reference to the agency’s formal request that the Army test for PFAS chemicals in two creeks that run through the former Seneca Army Depot.

Reeder and Kendaia creeks are “potential pathways of PFAS to Seneca Lake,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said in a paragraph removed this week from its website page that summarizes cleanup steps at the former base, a Superfund site.

The EPA had asked the Army to test surface water and sediment in the portions of the creeks that flow through the depot “to determine whether Army activities … may have impacted the two creeks.”

Reeder Creek originates within the boundaries of the former depot. Kendaia Creek originates just east of the site and runs across it. Both empty into Seneca Lake.

Fish taken from Kendaia Creek between the former depot and Seneca Lake had exceptionally high levels of a PFAS chemical, according to test results the state Department of Environmental Conservation shared with the Army and the EPA last October.

Reeder Creek originates in the former Seneca Army Depot and flows through its northern section. Kendaia Creek flows across the former base’s eastern and western boundaries.

The Army has long acknowledged high levels of PFAS chemicals in groundwater at the former base. It attributes the contamination to its extensive past use of PFAS-laden aqueous firefighting foam in training exercises.

But in a June 25 statement to WaterFront, the Army said it had no immediate plans to test the creeks. Sidestepping the fact that both creeks flow through the base, the statement said, “If migration of PFAS is seen leaving the base, then sampling at off-base receptors (including these creeks) will take place.”

Asked later that day for a reaction to the EPA’s request to test the two creeks, an Army spokesperson said that “after consultation” with the EPA, the agency “agreed to remove this language from its website.”

The EPA did not immediately comply. But on Monday, EPA spokesperson Michael Basile confirmed that the paragraph had been removed.

“Since the U.S. Army continues to be the lead agency for the site — we (EPA) will continue to dialogue with (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) as they follow the (remediation) process regarding PFAS,” Basile said. “If the data/investigation dictates the need, (the Army Corps) will be asked then to sample the creeks to identify potential receptors and to define the nature and extent from any sources at that time.”

As of July 8, the following paragraph was entirely removed from EPA’s website page detailing the former Seneca Army Depot:

“EPA has formally requested that the Army sample surface water and sediment at Reeder and Kendaia Creeks for PFAS where they enter / originate on the former depot, and where they exit the depot at its boundary in order to determine whether Army activities at the former depot may have impacted the 2 creeks and if the creeks are lpotential pathways of PFAS to Seneca Lake. Thus far the Army has not agreed with our request.”

Kendaia Creeks flows out of the former Seneca Army Depot into the eastern side of Seneca Lake.

While the Army holds off on testing the two creeks for PFAS chemicals, Seneca County is suing the federal government in U.S. District Court for alleged damages to its drinking water supply caused by alleged PFAS releases from the former base.

The lawsuit, filed in Buffalo in February, has since been transferred to South Carolina, where it has been consolidated with other dozens of other federal cases alleging PFAS contamination.

“As of the date of filing this complaint, (Seneca Army Depot) has taken no action to stop or even mitigate the ongoing migration of its PFAS contamination into plaintiff’s water supply and property, nor has it agree to pay for, reimburse or otherwise offer to share any of the monetary damages incurred by plaintiff in response to the contamination,” says the Seneca County complaint filed by the law firm Napoli Shkolnik

The suit claims aqueous firefighting foams (AFFFs) were stored and used in training exercises at the former depot for decades. The foams contain PFAS (perfluorochemical) compounds, including PFOS and PFOA, which are toxic in minuscule concentrations.

The EPA has set enforceable limits for PFOS and PFOA at four parts per trillion in public drinking water.

In its suit, Seneca County says it purchases water from the Village of Waterloo via the Seneca Lake Water District. The village draws its raw water from Seneca Lake.

The suit alleges that tests of Seneca County drinking water in September 2019 showed dangerously high levels of PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) — 1,360 parts per trillion. Other lesser know PFAS compounds allegedly had even higher concentrations.

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Efforts to obtain confirmation of those 2019 test results from Napoli Shkolnik were not successful. However, Seneca County Attorney David Ettman said this afternoon that the numbers cited in the lawsuit were from a depot firefighting burn pit — not from Seneca County drinking water. “The complaint will be amended to show that they are not ‘drinking water’ samples or tests,” Ettman said.

Jim Bromka, manager of the Waterloo water plant, said he had never seen tests results showing PFOA contamination in filtered drinking water anywhere near that high. He said he’d never seen anything approaching those levels even in raw water drawn from Seneca Lake.

The water plant’s 2023 annual water quality report shows PFOA at 4.24 ppt.

The Waterloo water plant has been upgrading its filtering systems to remove or reduce cyanobacteria toxins from algal blooms and PFAS compounds from public drinking water. The final cost of the upgrades is expected to exceed $12 million.

The Seneca County lawsuit seeks reimbursement for the costs of the new treatment system.

A previous county damage claim, filed against the Department of Defense in October 2021 under the Federal Tort Claims Act, was denied, according to the pending suit.