The West Amwell wells have received attention from federal officials
because they are the first drinking-water wells in the country to show signs of PCB contamination that may be linked to Texas Eastern's past dumping practices.
The discovery of the tainted wells has sparked fear and uncertainty in the township of 2,300, which lies just northeast of Lambertville and across the Delaware River from New Hope. All township residents get their water from private wells.
"From what I've seen, people are angered and upset because they don't know what to do about the problem," Police Chief Robert Musselman said yesterday. ''People are concerned for their health and their families' health."
For the five families whose wells have been found to be contaminated, state officials say their cause for concern is real. Richard Dewling, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said yesterday that he considered the water in those wells to be unsafe to drink.
"They should be concerned," Dewling said of the affected families. ''We're concerned."
State and federal officials plan to test additional wells in the community at Texas Eastern's expense to measure the extent of the groundwater contamination. The shale that underlies the township is highly fractured from past geological disruptions, making it difficult for geologists to plot the flow of groundwater, according to state officials.
The New Jersey Department of Health also plans to sample the milk from cows at three nearby farms to determine whether the animals were exposed to PCBs by drinking from a stream that runs near Texas Eastern's site, near the junction of Routes 179 and 202.
At a meeting yesterday with state and federal officials, Texas Eastern agreed to immediately provide the affected families with bottled water and to install carbon filters on their wells in the near future to filter out the PCBs. The company also agreed to supply bottled water to any people in the township who is uneasy about their drinking water.
But Fred Wichlep, Texas Eastern's vice president for public affairs, said yesterday, "We do not have the data to tell us right now that we are responsible for the contamination."
Of nine wells tested near Texas Eastern's compressor station in the township last Saturday, five were found to be contaminated with PCBs at levels ranging from 0.51 parts per billion to 4.40 parts per billion.
New Jersey is preparing to propose a drinking-water standard of 0.7 parts per billion, which would mean that the most seriously contaminated of the five wells contains more than six times the maximum level considered by the state to be safe to drink.
Despite the concerns of state officials, a toxicologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta with expertise in PCBs said yesterday that she saw no reason for undue concern at the levels found at the wells.
"I would tell them it's really no problem to their health, and that they shouldn't worry about it, but that if there was a potential for the levels to increase further," they should seek other drinking water-sources, said the toxicologist, Renate Kimbrough.
In addition to the water samples taken last week, soil samples taken by the company at the site showed PCB levels as high as 4,600 parts per million on surface soil and 4,200 parts per million in a soil boring, according to records provided to the state by Texas Eastern.
PCBs were used in lubricating fluids in compressors used by Texas Eastern to pump natural gas through its pipelines. Liquids potentially contaminated by PCBs were dumped into a 20-foot-diameter earthen pit at the company's West Amwell station.