'Forever chemicals' mitigation costs in Emmaus double to an estimated $24 million
EMMAUS, Pa. — The costs to get the forever chemicals out of borough residents’ drinking water continues to climb, with estimates now between $24 million and $45 million.
- Emmaus officials on Monday night heard several options to deal with PFAS mitigation
- Plans include getting water from the Lehigh County Authority, treating existing wells or a combination of both
- Remediation costs, which were previously estimated at $12 million, have doubled
“These PFAS chemicals, they are transmissive,” said Michael T. Brown, a senior project manager and principal engineer with Gannett Fleming, the firm that presented a study to borough council Monday night. “ … Pretty much, within the borough, there’s a high likelihood that if you do find additional wells that produce significant amounts of water, there’s a good chance you’ll find those detectable levels in these other wells.
“It’s just the way the PFAS moves.”
Borough officials have been dealing with high levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in their residential water for several years. The manufactured chemicals have been used in consumer products since the 1940s, but have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they are incredibly slow to break down once introduced into the environment, and can contaminate groundwater.
Almost two years ago, two of the borough’s wells tested positive for high levels of PFAS. Officials estimated it would cost $400,000 to mitigate one well. Then, after finding two other borough wells also needed mitigation, cost estimates rose to $4.5 million per well, driving the price to more than $12 million.
Now, more stringent regulations are making the estimate climb again.
In mid-March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to set nationwide maximum levels of PFAS allowable in public drinking water. The announcement came about three months after Pennsylvania adopted new regulations, but the EPA’s are almost four times lower.
Leaders now have some decisions to make about how to best mitigate the borough’s wells. During the council meeting, Brown and Lori Kappen, a senior project engineer with Gannet Fleming, spoke about several options for the borough — and none of them are cheap.
The best opportunity for interconnections with the borough is to take water from the city of Allentown … Basically, the borough system is currently less than a mile away from the city of Allentown’s water system.Michael T. Brown, a senior project manager and principal engineer with Gannett Fleming
First, the borough could pay to treat the water, which could cost between $24 million to $30 million, annualized over 20 years. It could take more than two years to complete.
A second option is to buy water from the Lehigh County Authority’s Allentown system, officials said. That could cost $35 million to $45 million, due to needed improvements and a pump station.
“The best opportunity for interconnections with the borough is to take water from the city of Allentown,” Brown said. “ … Basically, the borough system is currently less than a mile away from the city of Allentown’s water system.”
It could take between one and two years to complete, he said.
Finally, officials could decide to do a combination of both options. Brown called it a “hybrid approach,” costing between $30 million to $40 million.
In terms of upfront costs, the hybrid option would be most expensive, followed by the treatment plan, Brown said. Purchasing water would be the cheapest.
“The treatment is actually the cheapest annual cost,” Brown said. “In your annual costs for treatment, there’s certainly the physical operation of the facility, staffing, manpower, energy costs, things like that.”
Officials are expected to decide which plan to adopt at the next borough council meeting, set for May 15.