PFOS/PFOA Progress

PFOS PFOA Scorecard Update


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Two synthetic compounds classified as PFCs, PFOS and PFOA, 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.

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 Air Force-wide where AFFF may have been used.
The 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 Air Force completed preliminary assessments for 96 percent of the 200 installations. The Air Force is prioritizing sampling based on factors, such as; potential pathways to drinking water, depth to groundwater and potential for contaminate to migrate off base.
The Air Force is using a comprehensive approach – identify, respond, prevent – to assess the potential for PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water, on and off installations, and responding appropriately. If the Air Force identifies a drinking water source that could be contaminated, it will be tested. When drinking water sample results indicate PFOS/PFOA levels exceed the EPA’s health advisory, the Air Force determines an appropriate mitigation action, such as providing an alternate drinking water source, filtration system, and/or providing bottled water. When PFOS/PFOA are detectable but below the HA level in drinking water, the Air Force may conduct well monitoring as needed to track level changes and determine if further action is needed.

The Air Force is focused on three lines of effort to address PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water supplies:

  • Identify: Researchers identify fire training areas, crash sites and areas at installations where AFFF was used. At locations where a release may have occurred, investigators conduct groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment sampling for verification. If pathways exist to drinking water sources, the Air Force will test public water systems and private wells.
  • Respond: Where PFOS/PFOA levels exceed health advisory levels in drinking water supplies, the Air Force will immediately provide alternate drinking water sources. The Air Force will then identify and initiate a long-term solution to provide safe drinking water, which may include carbon filtration systems, plume-migration control, land use control, etc.
  • Prevent: The Air Force is replacing legacy AFFF with more environmentally responsible AFFF approved for military use and with concentrations below the EPA’s health advisory levels. The Air Force is also evaluating the best approaches to reduce the risk of inadvertent discharges and ensure containment in hangar fire prevention systems.

Air Force Response to PFOS and PFOA


What are PFOS and PFOA?

Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are a group of manmade chemicals used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes including: nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and firefighting foam.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency established health advisory levels in drinking water for two types of PFCs - perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOS and PFOA are classified as emerging contaminants because they do not have established regulatory standards, but evolving science has identified potential risk to humans and regulatory standards are under consideration.

The Air Force and PFOS/PFOA

PFOS and PFOA are components of legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) the Air Force began using in the 1970s as a firefighting agent to extinguish petroleum fires; AFFF provides essential burn-back resistance, protection against vapor release and rapid extinguishment.

The Air Force's Effort to Prevent Future Releases

Although PFOS and PFOA are unregulated compounds and still in use in a variety of products, the Air Force is using a comprehensive approach -- identify, respond, prevent -- to assess the potential for PFOS or PFOA contamination of drinking water, on and off installations, and respond appropriately.