ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will deliver fresh water to four homes in a northeastern Pennsylvania village where residential water wells were tainted by a gas driller. The agency also said it will begin testing the water supplies of dozens more homes as it ramps up its investigation more than three years after homeowners say the water supply was ruined.
Capping a tumultuous two weeks in which EPA first promised the residents a tanker of water - and then quickly backed away, saying more study was needed - federal environmental regulators said they have concluded that contaminant levels in four of the homes pose a health hazard and require emergency action. Some of the water samples, the agency said, were found to be polluted with cancer-causing arsenic and synthetic chemicals typically found in drilling fluids.
The first delivery of water is scheduled for Friday.
I cant even tell you, again, what a relief this is. because thats all weve asked for - water, said Julie Sautner, one of the homeowners.
Additionally, EPA said it will sample water at 61 homes in the area of Carter and Meshoppen roads to assess further whether any residents are being exposed to hazardous substances that cause health concerns. The testing, to be carried out over the next several weeks, marks a significant expansion of the agencys probe in Dimock, a tiny crossroads at the center of a national debate over gas drilling and the extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
More than a dozen homeowners in Dimock say they have been without a reliable supply of clean water since Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the Houston-based drilling firm blamed for polluting their aquifer, won permission from state regulators to halt daily deliveries on Nov. 30.
After analyzing sampling data provided by Cabot, the residents, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, EPA said hazardous substances were found in the water wells of several homes. But only in four homes were they in high enough concentrations to present a health threat, the agency said. EPA said it might provide water to additional homes, or stop delivering water altogether, depending on the results of its own testing,
EPA is working diligently to understand the situation in Dimock and address residents concerns, EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said in a statement. We believe that the information provided to us by the residents deserves further review, and conducting our own sampling will help us fill information gaps. Our actions will be based on the science and the law and we will work to help get a more complete picture of water quality for these homes in Dimock.
EPA said the federal Superfund program - the environmental fund used to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites - authorized it to take emergency action in Dimock.
Its not clear how many wells in Dimock were affected by the drilling, which began in 2008. The state has found that at least 18 residential water wells were fouled by stray methane gas from Cabots drilling operation, although EPA said Thursday that its own door-to-door survey turned up 20 water wells on those same parcels.
Cabot, which was banned in 2010 from drilling in a 9-square-mile area around the village, took legal responsibility for the methane found in the wells, but contends that water wells in the area were tainted with the gas long before the company arrived. The company also says it met a state deadline to restore or replace Dimocks water supply, installing treatment systems in some houses that have removed the methane.