U.S. Department of Defence officials at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst have confirmed that chemicals used in firefighting foam has been found in several groundwater sources on and off the base.
The chemicals in question are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They are synthetic compounds classified that are components of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a type of fire-fighting foam. AFFF is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum-based fires and is widely used across the firefighting industry, to include all commercial airports, to protect people and property.
PFOA and PFOS are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. They have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease or stains. They are also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.
On the base, the groundwater monitoring program consisted of testing approximately 165 groundwater monitoring wells and 28 drinking water sources. Results of analysis from groundwater samples show that 124 wells and two drinking water sources had contamination levels of PFOS and PFOA far in excess of the U.S. EPA health advisory for the compounds. In some samples, the PFOS/PFOA concentrations were thousands of time higher than the standard. The highest concentration of PFOS/PFOA was 264,300 parts per trillion.
To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, the U.S. EPA established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion. When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS should be compared with the 70 parts per trillion health advisory level.
Results of analysis from groundwater samples taken from private wells off the base also showed high PFOS and PFOA concentrations. Of 131 off-base private drinking water wells tested, three were contaminated, and one had combined PFOS/PFOA levels of 1,392 parts per trillion.
Since the 1970s, the Air Force used this foam at crash sites, in fire training areas and some maintenance hangers at active, Reserve, Air National Guard and former installations. The Air Force is systematically testing for potential PFOS/PFOA releases in soil, surface water and groundwater U.S. Air Force-wide where AFFF may have been used.
The U.S. Air Force identified approximately 200 installations (active, Reserve, Air National Guard and closed) where firefighting foam may have been released and is conducting site inspections to confirm if releases occurred. As of November 2016, the U.S. Air Force completed preliminary assessments for 96 percent of the 200 installations. The U.S. Air Force is prioritizing sampling based on factors, such as; potential pathways to drinking water, depth to groundwater and potential for contam
inate to migrate off base.
Currently, the U.S. Air Force is focused identify bases where there is PFOS/PFOA contaminated drinking water. If contamination is found in the drinking water supply, immediate action will be taken to provide an alternative drinking water source. Furthermore, the U.S. Air Force will initiate a long-term solution for safe drinking water which may include carbon filtration systems, plume-migration control, land use control, or other measures. Finally, the U.S. Air Force is taking measures to prevent further groundwater contamination by replacing PFOS/PFOA-containing AFFF with more environmentally responsible AFFF.