Water contamination in Philly suburbs

Warminster, Pa.

Warminster, Pennsylvania is a small town 3.7 miles outside of the larger city of Philadelphia. According to the 2010 census, Warminster has a population of 32,682 residents. The median income per household is around $32,196, with a per capita income of $14,610. Some 15.7 percent of families in Warminster and 19.7 percent of the total population live below the poverty line.

While some parts of Warminster and the surrounding areas are considered “middle class” with a “high quality of life,” there is no denying that this town has extreme wealth disparities and a class divide. The township has had serious problems over the past few decades such as police corruption (including instances of pedophilia and stealing township money), a heroin epidemic and irresponsible spending by the school district, leaving arts and language programs at risk.

Warminster is located near two naval air bases, one in the bordering town of Willow Grove, and one in the town itself. The Warminster naval base was built in the 1930s and purchased by the U.S. Navy from Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, a defense contractor that went bankrupt shortly afterwards. Following the bankruptcy the Navy took over until the base closed in the early 1990s.

Over the years there have been multiple well closures in Warminster and the surrounding towns; six wells in Warminster, five wells in Warrington and five wells in Horsham all of which had been used by those towns and the small borough of Ivyland. These well closures are linked to water contamination due to synthetic materials PFOA and PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) which are found in firefighting foams used on the naval bases that seeped into the groundwater.

Dangers of PFOAs and PFOSs

PFOAs and PFOSs are usually found in household goods. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, exposure to the acid in animal studies has been shown to affect the immune systems of male mice , and is known to cause cancer if inhaled or ingested. The EPA just began investigating the dangers of the chemicals in the 2000s and standards were set by the federal governments on safe levels of ingestion only in 2009.

According to an article originally posted on, the Navy has spent $19 million on both the cleanup and investigation and the Air Force has spent $8.3 million. The article estimates that the entire cleanup will most likely take about 20 years. The state’s House of Representatives has even passed a resolution to urge the federal government and the military to provide blood tests for the residents.

Ever since an advisory by local government was posted online that there were high levels of PFOAs and PFOSs in the drinking water, Warminster, Ivyland, Horsham, Warrington and Willow Grove residents have been outraged. PFOA manufacturers agreed to “phase out” the chemicals in the drinking water by 2015, but the half-lives of PFOSs and PFOAs respectively are 5.4 and 3.8 years.

But many Warminster residents have been living in the town their entire lives. The firehose foam was believed to have been used up until 2010, and levels were still detected in the groundwater in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which means many of the residents are still drinking it. Ever since the EPA released higher standards for the amount of acceptable PFOAs and PFOSs, about ⅓ of 342 homes that had private wells were shown to have above the acceptable level of the synthetic materials. Some residents have even resorted to drinking out of plastic water bottles in order to avoid further contamination or risk of cancer.

There have been many reports of naval air base workers getting cancer which they believe is linked to constant on the job exposure to the chemicals. Government negligence over environmentally unsafe chemicals has proven itself a crime, and now working class people are bearing the brunt while the government and navy elites reap the benefits of the base workers’ labor.

Organize and fight back

But the people are starting to fight back. The Weitz & Luxenberg law firm, associated with environmental activist Erin Brockovich, has been involved in an investigative case surrounding the contamination and presented their findings and addressed citizens’ concerns on June 28 at the auditorium in Upper Moreland High School.

Erin Brockovich gave a few words of support via Skype to the crowd: “Together, you can make the difference and you can fight and push for answers and for clean water and we’re going to help you do it.”

Many Warminster, Warrington and Horsham residents attended over concerns about the potential link between cancer and PFOSs and PFOAs, especially since there have been many instances of people getting cancer in that area over the past few decades.

Under capitalism where a tiny elite rules over the  working class majority, government is not known to make a concerted effort to help out communities that are sick from contaminated water, as we can see by the example of Flint, Michigan. This is especially the case when the cause of the contaminated water is the military industrial complex itself. Working class people living near or working on the base have been exposed to such dangerous chemicals with no compensation so far from the government.

Under socialism–a society where political and economic power is in the hands of the working class and the oppressed–the government would plan for and guarantee the basic needs of the people and the planet. This would include protecting people from dangerous chemicals and securing clean water, safe housing and safe jobs for all.


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