UPDATE Aug. 2020: Public comment period opens for Relative Risk Site Evaluation for PFOS/PFOA
UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, there has been a pause in proceeding forward with the actions outlined below. It will resume once guidance is received from higher headquarters.
PRESS RELEASE FEB. 18, 2020
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center and Scott Air Force Base are working together to sample identified wells that are used for a water source within one mile southeast of the base for potential contamination from past fire-fighting activities on the installation.
The Air Force is currently conducting a well survey in cooperation with local regulators and will contact well owners in the sample area, with the goal of starting sampling in May.
Water provided by American Water to Scott AFB and the surrounding communities is not affected and remains safe to drink.
The well sampling is part of the Air Force’s proactive, service-wide investigation to assess potential risks to drinking water from Perfluorooctanoic Acid, PFOA, and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, PFOS. The compounds are components of foam used by firefighters at commercial airports, Air Force installations and other services to combat petroleum-based fires, also known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF.
It was in 2016 that the Environmental Protection Agency issued a Lifetime Health Advisory for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. The Air Force has since replaced legacy firefighting foam in Scott AFB emergency response vehicles with a new, more environmentally responsible formula that is still effective, and has a greatly reduced environmental footprint. Additionally, the Air Force changed its emergency training and response procedures to reduce the risk of contamination from mission activities.
As part of the Air Force’s three-step approach — identify, respond, protect — AFCEC completed a preliminary assessment at Scott AFB in July 2015 that identified areas on base for potentially elevated PFOS/PFOA levels at Scott.
As another proactive measure to ensure drinking water sources are protected, the Air Force will sample selected off-base wells, and again, communities supplied by American Water are not affected.
If the Air Force determines the tested water sources contain PFOS/PFOA at levels above the EPA lifetime health advisory level, it will take immediate measures. If the wells are drinking water sources, the Air Force will provide bottled water or other alternative sources. It will work with well owners and regulators to determine a permanent solution.
“We are committed to being 100 percent transparent with our community partners as we move forward with this testing,” said Col. Joseph Meyer, 375th Air Mobility Wing vice commander. “If we know something, we will say something. We owe it to our neighbors and surrounding communities to be open to discussion based on the facts at hand.”
For more information on the
Air Force response to PFOS and PFOA
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Is it safe to live and work on Scott AFB based on this site inspection report?
Yes. The site inspection results determined that drinking water on base at Scott AFB remains safe for human consumption.
Is Scott AFB’s drinking water safe?
Yes. The base drinking water is tested quarterly, and has never shown an elevated level for PFOS/PFOA. T
Where does Scott AFB get its drinking water?
Scott AFB obtains its potable water from the Illinois American Water Company who also operates the potable water distribution system at Scott AFB. The potable water source is the Mississippi River (approximately 17.5 miles west of Scott AFB).
What are your next steps?
Our next steps are to complete an Expanded Site Inspection, which will include requesting permission to sample privately owned wells around Scott AFB. If it is determined that there are levels of PFOS/PFOA above EPA LHA in drinking water wells the Air Force will assess whether our mission-related activities such as firefighting have had an impact on drinking water supplies. We are sampling drinking water sources across the Air Force, and where concentrations of PFOS/PFOA in drinking water are above the EPA LHA in drinking water, we immediately provide alternate drinking water or implement long-term steps to ensure safe drinking water.
When will the contamination be cleaned up?
The Air Force is using a comprehensive approach – identify, respond, prevent – to assess the potential for PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water and respond appropriately. Our first priority is identifying whether or not there is a PFOS/PFOA impact to drinking water supplies. Using this information the Air Force will be better suited to analyze the results and assess what role the Air Force has or may have towards the introduction of PFOS/PFOA into the environment, and subsequently work within existing Congressional restraints and authorizations, and within legal authorities to determine our ability to protect drinking water sources.
The CERCLA process will include determining the response actions for PFOS/PFOA. Our immediate focus is identifying and responding to drinking water above the EPA’s LHA for drinking water as a result of our mission. The long-term solution for addressing the contamination will be through the CERCLA process to investigate the extent of the contamination, evaluate risk, and determine appropriate response actions. This process includes other federal and state regulator coordination and public involvement
How long could cleanup take?
The time it takes to complete a site’s environmental restoration depends on many factors, including the risk it poses to human health and the environment, the volume and location of the contamination, and the selected cleanup solution. The CERCLA process involves investigating the extent of the contamination, evaluating risk, and determining response actions. This process includes public involvement. The long term response actions can take many years to accomplish and many factors will be considered in the final solution.
How will cleanups be prioritized?
Under CERCLA and DoD, installation work sequencing is based on “worst first”, meaning that potential risk to human drinking water is given priority. We also use ratings of relative risk to human health, human safety and the environment when sequencing projects.
If the site inspection was focused on drinking water, why does it include information about potential impacts of non-potable groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment?
The process the Air Force is using to assess sites nationwide, each Site Inspection uses groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment sampling to verify releases and map possible contamination. If a pathway to drinking water sources is found during a Site Inspection, the Air Force takes steps to identify and address mission-related drinking-water impacts.
Isn’t it obvious that the contamination is from the base?
PFOS/PFOA are common compounds found in many water- and stain-resistant products around the world used in many industrial and consumer products, and in foam used by commercial industries and the armed services to extinguish fuel fires. These chemicals have been used for many years to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. In 1970, the Air Force began using Aqueous Film Forming Foam, which contains PFOS and PFOA, to extinguish petroleum fires. 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/PFOS are not uniquely attributable to DoD activities. As such, we must conduct a comprehensive investigation – in accordance with state and federal regulations – to identify the possibility that our activities may have contributed to PFOS/PFOA concentrations above the EPA’s LHA and take appropriate action.
Will the Air Force be testing wells off base? How long will it take to get those results?
Yes, wells in a 1-mile range down-gradient of Scott AFB will be tested with the owner’s consent. Scott AFB is committed to transparently sharing information with our off-base partners. We will communicate directly with those individuals with wells in the area potentially impacted by PFOS/PFOA (up- or side- gradient locations are not considered to be potentially impacted). It will take 2-4 weeks for the sampling results to be determined. If it is determined that there are levels of PFOS/PFOA above EPA LHA in drinking water wells the Air Force will immediately provide bottled water to those impacted and develop a long-term mitigation plan.
Will the Air Force test my well?
The Air Force is taking a proactive, measured approach to sampling off-base wells. During the Site Inspection phase, the Air Force will identify wells to sample based on probability of elevated levels of PFOS/PFOA, proximity to known areas with heightened levels and possible pathways from the site of heightened levels to the drinking water wells. If the Site Inspection indicates your well might be impacted, we could then sample the well.
I live near an installation; why won’t the Air Force sample my well?
Air Force sampling actions are data driven. We use data and site information to map contaminant migration and potential pathways to drinking water so we can continue to protect human health by focusing sampling efforts in the locations potentially impacted. The Air Force evaluates site-specific factors to assess if there is a potential for contamination to reach drinking water supplies.
Why not just start cleanup and fix the root of the problem?
Our first priority is protecting human drinking water because drinking water is a direct pathway to human consumption. The EPA has established a lifetime health advisory level for PFOS/PFOA in drinking water, but there are currently no nationwide cleanup standards for PFOS/PFOA. Using the CERCLA process, the Air Force is conducting site inspections to confirm if releases occurred, identify human drinking water sources that may be adversely impacted, and evaluate if a release will likely impact human drinking water.
Why is this taking so long?
We are working as quickly as we can - while following a multi-step processes - to address human drinking water impacted by our firefighting mission.
Can you provide the results of samples taken off base?
We can’t release results for specific wells – that information belongs to the well owner – but we can provide a range of PFOS/PFOA levels.
Will my pets be contaminated if they drink water tested above HA?
The EPA health advisory is specific to the human consumption of water so that is our focus. For more information about impact to pets, please refer to the EPA.
Will eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables, and meat from farms using water above HA contain a significant amount of PFOS/PFOA to be concerned?
These health advisories only apply to exposure scenarios involving drinking water. They are not appropriate for use in identifying risk levels for ingestion of food sources, including fish, meat produced from livestock that consumes contaminated water, or crops irrigated with contaminated water. For more information, contact the EPA or your local and state health department.
When did Scott AFB firefighters stop using the legacy firefighting foam?
The Air Force began replacing both PFOS-based and other legacy AFFF products with a new, more environmentally responsible formula in August 2018.
What is CERCLA?
Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act — also known as Superfund 1980 in response to risks to human health and the environment posed by contaminated sites. CERCLA is a complex, multi-phase process. The process promotes accountability, community involvement and long-term protectiveness. The goal of CERCLA is to protect human health and environment by cleaning up sites.
The CERCLA process depends on regulatory standards to fully identify and resolve contamination. Without established standards, federal and state agencies are often unable to use taxpayer dollars to investigate and respond to undefined contamination, and regulatory agencies lack the ability to enforce action.