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New water treatment systems address PFOS/PFOA issues at former Mather AFB

Technicians draw a water sample

Cape Environmental groundwater treatment technician Marcos Arias collects water samples from the GAC treatment systems installed at the former Mather Air Force Base, California. The newly installed system is part of a Air Force Civil Engineer Center Base Realignment and Closure program contract award to address perfluorooctanoic sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOS and PFOS, found there. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dante Gulle)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Air Force Civil Engineer Center continues to respond to drinking water impacts from emerging contaminants once used in fire-fighting foam at multiple bases throughout the nation.

Air Force environmental engineers at the former Mather AFB in Sacramento, made significant progress recently with the installation of new water treatment systems designed to address perfluorooctanoic sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOS and PFOS, found there.

"Protecting the Mather community from PFOS and PFOA in drinking water is a high priority for the Air Force," said Douglas Self, AFCEC base environmental coordinator and environmental engineer at Mather. "With these new water treatment systems up and running, we're ensuring that an active response is being taken to protect drinking water."

Mather was closed by BRAC law in 1993. By the end of 2014, the AFCEC Installations Directorate completed the transfer of all 5,718 acres for community reuse. Today, AFCEC engineers continue to complete the last remaining environmental cleanup work at the former base, including recent efforts to address PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.

Since 2014, AFCEC has spent $3.3 million at Mather to address PFOS and PFOA impacts on drinking water. The Air Force conducted PFOS and PFOA investigations here and found these chemicals present in groundwater located near two maintenance hangars, a fire station, and a former fire-fighting training area.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, are compounds widely used in industrial and commercial products such as food packaging, cookware, and firefighting foams. The Air Force and commercial airfields used these firefighting foams to put out fuel fires.

PFAS are man-made chemicals not found naturally in the environment and do not break down, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. On military bases, PFAS may be found in soil and groundwater near crash sites and firefighting training areas.

In 2016, the EPA established Lifetime Health Advisories for two types of PFAS, PFOS and PFOA, to provide Americans with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to the chemicals from drinking water. In response, Air Force environmental engineers evaluated the existing groundwater treatment systems at Mather for their ability to remove PFOS and PFOA. They also sampled off-base drinking water wells to assess potential exposures.

AFCEC determined that additional treatment was needed to protect drinking water supplies. Granular-activated carbon treatment is the leading treatment option for filtering out PFOS/PFOA. Two new GAC systems were incorporated into existing groundwater treatment facilities at Mather which previously focused on other contaminant removal.

The GAC treatment systems installed at Mather can process up to 1,500 gallons-per-minute of water, which is then re-injected into the groundwater. AFCEC installed both systems within six months of contract award to rapidly respond to the developing impacts from PFOS /PFOA.

“These are robust water treatment systems that were custom built to work with existing water treatment equipment already installed by the Air Force,” Self said. “As the new systems do their job of removing the contaminants, we’ll continue to monitor wells in the area for PFOS and PFOA to ensure the levels are below the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory.”