Martinsburg Sues Feds Over 2016 Water Contamination

May 21, 2018

The City of Martinsburg has sued the federal government over alleged chemical contamination of a drinking water plant.

Martinsburg attorney Kin Sayre filed the claim this month, requesting the Air National Guard pay for damages caused by high levels of two chemicals that the city said seeped into the water supply at the Big Springs water filtration plant in Martinsburg in 2016.

Credit Jasonanaggie / Wikimedia Commons

The chemicals -- PFOA and PFOS -- are found in a firefighting foam used by the Air National Guard. A base, the 167th Airlift Wing, is located in Berkeley County.

Steve Knipe, the utilities director for the City of Martinsburg, said the city acted quickly two years ago when a federal water quality report made them aware of the contamination.

“Martinsburg was proactive about jumping in and taking that source of supply off line while we were designing treatment systems for removing it,” he said.

The incident affected the southern and western parts of Martinsburg, but it’s hard to say exactly how many customers were affected because of the city's grid system, Knipe said. There are 6,000 customers in Martinsburg, but not all were affected by the contamination, he said.

The city’s water was switched over to the Kilmer Springs Water Filtration Plant, a back up to Big Springs. In December 2017, the Big Springs plant was turned back on after tests showed the new system was effective.

Knipe said Martinsburg paid $4.5 million with the city’s water and sewer savings accounts for research and to install eight granulated, activated carbon systems -- its main material made out of coconut shells -- to filter out the chemical in the Big Springs Plant.

“The biggest cost ongoing, from here on out is going to be carbon replacement," Knipe noted, "and that’s actually going to be dependent on the concentration of the contaminant.”

Knipe says each unit may need replaced every year.

The Martinsburg water plant is one of hundreds across the country possibly contaminated by PFOS as a result of firefighting foams, potentially costing billions in cleanup.

The Air National Guard promised to pay back Martinsburg for the carbon systems and other damages.

Knipe said the city hasn't received it.

***Editor's Note: The headline and body of this story were adjusted for clarification.