Killingworth family worries about health effects of chemical in water


KILLINGWORTH – When Elysia Piscitelli moved with her husband Franco to a house on Wolf Hollow Lane 10 years ago, the area reminded her of her childhood, growing up in a small town with a large plot for the couple’s three dogs.

Like most homes in the area, their home was not connected to a public water system, she said. For years, the Piscitellis relied on well water on their property – until they received disturbing news this spring.

The town hall water – a few hundred yards through the woods of the Piscitelli House – tested at high levels for a group of chemicals known as PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances. In April, city officials said family regulators also wanted to test the water on their property.

When the results returned, PFAS levels in the Piscitellis well were detected at 591 parts per trillion, the couple said, more than eight times the maximum level set by the state.

Bill signed

The discovery of potentially toxic levels of PFAS chemicals in 14 private wells in Killingworth comes as state lawmakers worked during the session to enact legislation addressing growing concerns over PFAS contamination by limiting use chemical products. Governor Ned Lamont signed the bill last Tuesday.

The new law will limit the use of these chemicals in all food packaging from 2023. This year, it also bans the use of these chemicals in most fire-fighting foams, a major source of pollution in the world. Connecticut and elsewhere.

Airports, which are required to have stocks of fire-fighting foams containing PFAS under federal regulations, will remain exempt for the time being.

“Forever” chemicals

Also known as ‘forever’ chemicals because they do not break down quickly and can build up over time in the body, PFASs have long been used in common household items, such as food packaging and non-stick cookware, as well as in industrial applications.

While almost all Americans are considered to have some level of exposure to PFAS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that higher levels of exposure can lead to harmful health effects, including high blood pressure, liver problems, low birth weight and some cancers.

Elysia Piscitelli was pregnant with the couple’s only child when they moved to Killingworth ten years ago. Her son was born prematurely a few months later. Otherwise, she said, the family have had no obvious health issues that could be related to PFAS, although they are considering medical exams to perform tests.

If they were to fall ill in the future, Piscitelli said she was concerned about whether health insurance would cover the costs of care.

“It’s nerve-wracking that we now have to deal with this for the rest of our lives,” Piscitelli said last week. “Having that over our heads, our child’s head, it’s scary.”

The agency is taking action

Since the discovery of PFAS contamination at Killingworth, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has expanded testing and is working with a contractor to install filter systems on properties where chemicals have been detected above the 70 parts per trillion “action level,” according to a spokesperson for the agency.

In the meantime, the state is providing affected residents with bottled water.

DEEP spokesman Will Healey said water samples were taken from about 70 properties in Killingworth and 14 tested above action levels, ranging from 73 to 1,560 parts per trillion.

Lower levels were detected in 32 other wells, Healey said, while lab tests failed to detect chemicals in 20 others. Results are pending for four more.

“Data from the sampling of private wells indicate that the perimeter of properties with high PFAS results has been established,” Healey said in an email. “DEEP will continue to conduct private well sampling on the properties to confirm consistency with the data and our understanding of the affected area and wells. “

No known source

Authorities have yet to determine the source of the contamination, although suspicions in Killingworth have turned to volunteer firefighters next to Town Hall.

The first woman chosen, Catherine Iino, said in an interview last week that firefighters stopped using foams with PFAS decades ago, before companies began phasing out chemicals from their products. Highlighting the ubiquitous presence of chemicals and their ability to persist in the environment, Iino predicted that similar contamination would likely be found elsewhere in Connecticut.

“It will be in every city in the state because the firefighters were doing what they were supposed to do,” Iino said.

PFAS working group

The threat of firefighting foam contamination caught the attention of state policymakers in 2019, after an accidental spill at Bradley International Airport released thousands of gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS in the Farmington River. Lamont set up a PFAS working group following the accident, which ultimately led to a take-back program for the safe disposal of foams containing PFAS.

In a statement Friday, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes welcomed the new law’s ban on PFASs in food packaging and fire-fighting foams.

“Both of these actions are in line with the Connecticut PFAS action plan released by Governor Lamont in November 2019,” said Dykes.

A “new phenomenon”

A filter was installed in the Piscitelli’s home on Thursday, the couple said, although they still get their water from gallon jugs delivered by DEEP until further tests can prove the filter is effective in removing chemical products.

DEEP spokeswoman Meghan Bard said on Friday filters installed in residents’ homes will be maintained by the agency for six months to a year while investigators work to determine the source of the contamination. Once that happens, Bard said responsibility for cleaning and maintenance will shift.

The Piscitellis have said they have no regrets about moving to Killingworth and have no plans to move at this time. Even if they or their neighbors decide to leave, Franco Piscitelli said he was concerned the value of their home would be affected by the presence of the chemicals.

“I don’t think they would be able to sell right now,” he said. “A potential home buyer would just go to the next town.”

Connecticut’s new law banning PFAS in fire-fighting foams and food packaging follows similar bans in New York and Washington. On Thursday, Maine became the first state to enact a more drastic ban on all products containing PFAS, except in certain cases where use is “unavoidable.”

State Senator Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the environment committee, said publicity surrounding the Farmington River spill and subsequent issues at Killingworth helped identify a need for legislation, leading to bipartisan support from legislators.

Nonetheless, she said provisions that are not in the law, such as the ban on PFAS in all packaging and other manufactured products, should be considered in future sessions.

“I think we still have a long way to go to prevent PFAS contamination in our drinking water, in our soils,” Cohen said.

Meanwhile, Franco Piscitelli now believes more places are likely to discover levels of contamination. The regular tests he performed on the family’s well before this year did not verify the presence of PFAS, he said.

“It’s the new phenomenon,” he says. “It’s literally happening all over the country… no one was looking for it.”


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