FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
Fairchild Air Force Base is one of 200 locations identified as a sampling site by the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center, which has been conducting proactive and comprehensive assessments at a variety of active and closed bases to determine if Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and/or Perfluorooctanoic acid, pose a risk to drinking water.
“The Air Force has been working with communities and regulators since the Environmental Protection Agency issued preliminary guidance in 2009 to assess the PFOA/PFOS risk at installations,” said Mark Kinkade, AFCEC Chief of Public Affairs.
PFOS/PFOAs are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as emerging contaminants and are present in common household items as well as many water, heat and fire-resistant products, and have been a key component in aqueous film forming foam for many years.
AFFF is an effective fire-fighting agent used as a Mil-Spec approved extinguishing method for petroleum-based fires and is widely used by the armed services, commercial aviation and private industry to protect people and property. It has also been used here, in the past, for both training events and aircraft crash responses.
However, Fairchild has transitioned to a recently approved alternative AFFF that is PFOS-free and has only trace amounts of PFOA in all its fire trucks, yet still provides adequate fire protection for critical assets and infrastructure.
Additionally, according to Master Sgt. Andres Steevens, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron assistant fire chief, AFFF is no longer used during live-fire training and the fire trucks here are currently being outfitted with a test system that prevents any foam discharge during equipment testing.
In May 2016, the EPA announced lifetime health advisory levels for PFOA and PFOS. According to the EPA, health advisory levels are not regulatory standards, they are health-based concentrations which should offer a margin of protection for all people throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.
The Air Force has been taking proactive measures since 2011 to reduce the risk of mission-related PFOS/PFOA contamination to installation and nearby communities’ drinking water sources by working to eliminate the use of AFFF that contains PFOS and more than trace levels of PFOA.
The Air Force's three step approach -- identify, respond, prevent – is being used here. A preliminary assessment was conducted to identify where AFFF may have been discharged. The next phase is the site inspection which will determine if PFOS and PFOA are in groundwater.
“All drinking water sources used by Fairchild have already been tested and are below health advisory levels,” said Maj Tiffany Heline, 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering flight commander.
“We have identified five particular locations on base where we are testing the groundwater, to include fire-fighting training sites and the two locations where we unfortunately had aircraft accidents,” said Marc Connally, Fairchild’s AFCEC on-site remedial project mnager. “The findings will help us determine what the next steps will be, which might include testing private wells immediately outside the base perimeter since one of the test sites we’ve identified is very close to the fence line. This plan of action was briefed in November during the base’s annual public Restoration Advisory Board meeting in Spokane.”
If well testing is required off base, affected land owners/residents will be contacted. If any off-base tests are accomplished and conclude PFOS/PFOA are above the lifetime health advisory levels, those affected will be informed of the findings and appropriate additional actions taken.
“We’re committed to not only protecting human health and ensuring our base and the surrounding communities have safe water to drink, but also to being transparent as we work through this process,” said Col. Ryan Samuelson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander. “We’re systematically sampling groundwater and soil where AFFF was released, and there are short and long-term plans in place if testing shows any of our past activities have affected drinking water.”
More information about PFOS/PFOAs as well as the Air Force’s ongoing initiative to test for and prevent contamination from these compounds can be found here: http://www.afcec.af.mil/Home/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/
The EPA’s PFOA/PFOS factsheet can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf