EDITORIAL: Well, that's alarming

York Dispatch

The state Department of Environmental Protection doesn't know if contaminated wells in York County were fouled by run-off from a chemical plant fire last week in Adams County or from nearby farming activity.

A spokesman said the extremely high levels of nitrates found in at least two Warrington Township wells could have been there long before the June 9 blaze at Miller Chemical.

The DEP doesn't know for sure because it's not responsible for private wells — a source of water for many families in the rural areas through which the Conewago Creek snakes for 60 miles, from the fire scene to the Susquehanna River in York Haven.

We can only imagine that was news to at least few of the many concerned residents who called the DEP in the past week about their wells.

Department spokesman John Repetz said they were all told the same thing — that a well dug deep enough and sealed correctly should see "little to no" effect from nearby creek water contamination.

That might be comforting if the residents could be sure those wells were drilled correctly in the first place.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has no state-level controls over well-drilling.

In fact, what little the state has to say on the matter is enough to strike fear in hearts of homeowners who rely on well water.

"Drillers are NOT required to demonstrate knowledge of proper drilling or well construction practices in order to become licensed," according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "Being a licensed driller does not ensure that a water well will be properly constructed."

And that begs the question: Why in the world not?

Pennsylvania isn't exactly shy about setting standards for other professionals. If it can ensure a beautician is qualified to cut someone's hair, the state should certainly see to it that drillers know how to provide families with a safe water supply.

"Nobody's doing any testing for anything besides our own testing," said Dan Clarke, a father of a 5-month-old who just found out his Warrington Township well has six times the level of nitrates deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. "Why isn't there anybody who does standards (for wells)? Is it on us now?"

That seems to be the case.

And it seems wrong.