Bucks County Health Department
The purpose of the Bucks County Health Department project is to establish a private well construction inspection and certification program, monitor streams and groundwater, and to take an inventory of abandoned landfills. The project has three components:
- In the first year of the project, develop a well construction inspection and certification program by establishing an advisory committee (made up of engineers and other technical experts, well drillers, county planners, local government officials, and environmental groups) to develop ordinances, rules, and regulations; to hire and train technicians for field inspections and certifications; and establish training requirements for well drillers to be licensed/certified.
- In year two, begin to monitor and test surface and groundwater and establish a database and reliable indicators for detecting water pollution sites.
- In year three, begin to inventory and inspect abandoned landfills and solid waste disposal sites with regard to their pollution impact or potential impact to surface and ground waters.
The objective of this program is to minimize residents’ exposures to contaminated water through prevention (well inspections) and through identification of pollution sites or areas (monitoring, testing, and data analysis).
This project faced several barriers. One barrier is the ability to recruit and retain appropriate staff to carry out the project: there was a delay of several months until technicians were hired, and the environmental engineer supervisor retired a year ago. We were unable to hire a qualified replacement because of the county’s salary structure. We recently lost the project director, and chances of getting a replacement are not good.
Another barrier is in getting consensus from county and local municipal officials, well drillers, and environmental groups on well construction inspection rules and regulations. This barrier was eliminated with the establishment of an advisory committee composed of representatives from these groups.
What Is Next
The well certification and inspection program is mostly implemented with approved rules and regulations. Only the well drillers licensing piece still needs to be finalized. Funding systems are in place to assure the continuation of that component of the project.
The recent loss of the project director and the funding cut forced the department to reassess the future of the second- and third-year components of the project. Part of the project’s monitoring of surface and groundwaters required partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The department is determining whether the water information can still be obtained by reworking a role for the department in the USGS regional survey.
With regard to the abandoned landfill component, the department is involved with a county GIS system development project through which some of the activities might be done. Unfortunately, this will probably delay getting the data by 2 to 3 years.
Officials from other Pennsylvania health departments, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are looking at segments of the department’s well construction and protection program to assess the possibility of implementing similar programs in their respective jurisdictions. If the partnership with USGS can be reworked and a database established in the county’s GIS system, the analytic and pollution assessment segments might still be doable, so that the health impacts anticipated can still be realized.