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Water contamination testing to begin near Letterkenny Army Depot

The military weapons and equipment facility in Chambersburg is monitoring for dangerous chemicals that may be present in local residents' drinking water.

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. — Editor's Note: The above video is from July 19, 2021.

Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg will begin to look for any hazardous chemicals that may have leaked from its various military facilities into nearby residents' drinking water.

Letterkenny, which lies five miles north of Chambersburg, opened in 1942 for ammunition storage. Since then, it has grown into a booming center that tests, stores, maintains, destroys and transports military equipment, weapons and vehicles.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "historical operations contaminated soil, groundwater, sediment and surface water with hazardous chemicals" at Letterkenny. While cleanups are complete at certain areas of the 19,000 acre site, contamination investigations and mitigation efforts are still ongoing. 

Monitoring any potential nearby drinking water contamination is the latest step in the decades-long cleanup process. 

While Letterkenny says it routinely monitors its own water quality that comes from a public, off-post site, it says it will now contact public drinking water providers near the depot in order to identify any potentially vulnerable residents. 

According to a press release, the Army site is specifically monitoring for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, in resident drinking water. The EPA notes PFAs are "widely used, long-lasting chemicals" that may cause harmful health issues if humans are exposed to them. 

Letterkenny says it has never detected PFAs in its own water supply since it began routine testing in 2016, but it "wants to ensure past activities have not affected groundwater that could be used as drinking water near the Letterkenny Industrial Area." 

However, Letterkenny operations have used PFAs in the past. Previous sampling experiments have also detected dangerous PFA contamination levels in the groundwater on site, which can leak into primary water sources and vegetation. 

Letterkenny says it will reach out to nearby water providers within thirty days and develop a water sampling plan. Its personnel will then release updates to the public. 

The Chambersburg site is just one of thousands of military sites throughout the county on decontamination missions. 

According to 2017 data collected in ProPublica's "Bombs in our Backyard" series, the military spends more than a billion dollars a year cleaning up sites contaminated with toxic waste and weapon debris. That same project names Letterkenny as 19th in the nation based on the number of “high” and “medium risk” hazardous sites. The Chambersburg depot has fourteen. 

The latest drinking water undertaking at Letterkenny is part of a federal environment cleanup law called the "Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act." The act provides federal funding to clean up hazardous waste sites. Letterkenny says its PFAs and water investigation is part of this law. 

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