Air Force reaffirms community commitment, provides PFOS/PFOA update at Peterson AFB

  • Published
  • By AFCEC Public Affairs
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center
The Air Force is installing groundwater monitoring wells at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, to help determine if the use of firefighting foam at the installation may have contributed to drinking water contamination in local communities. 

The wells are part of the Air Force’s site inspection project to determine if perfluorooctanesulfonic and perfluorooctanoic acids, or “PFOS” and “PFOA,” in community drinking water sources are linked to the service’s use of aqueous film forming foam containing the compounds. Mark Correll, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, and Col. Douglas Schiess, 21st Space Wing Commander met with local leaders and the media Nov. 2 to discuss the progress of the site inspection and other issues related to the contamination concerns. 
Correll told community leaders water samples from the wells will provide critical data for the inspection process, the first groundwater samples will be pulled from the monitoring wells and sent to the lab by Nov. 11.

He said the Air Force is committed to protecting human health and ensuring affected communities have access to safe drinking water. 
"The Air Force is a member of this community, and our actions at Peterson are evidence of our commitment to this community," Correll said. "We share the community's concern that our mission activities may have had negative consequences. We want to know if that's true, and in the meantime, we are taking steps to ensure the community - our neighbors - have access to safe drinking water."

The Air Force has awarded a $4.3 million rapid response contract to treat drinking water. The money will be used to evaluate affected potable water systems and develop short-term treatment solutions. Additionally, the Air Force is providing bottled water to 90 locations south/southwest of Peterson, and will install whole house treatment systems for two mobile home parks and a local farm, and under-the-sink reverse osmosis filtration units for 25 homes on private wells.

The Air Force launched a proactive service-wide program to address drinking water safety concerns when the Environmental Protection Agency set a provisional health advisory for levels of PFOS and PFOA in community drinking water supplies. The EPA set a lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion in mid-2016.

Using the EPA’s provisional guidance to assess contamination risks, the Air Force identified 200 installations where AFFF releases may have occurred. As of November 2016, the Air Force has completed preliminary assessments for 96 percent of the 200 installations, including Peterson.

The Air Force is also replacing its inventory of firefighting foam with a more environmentally responsible alternative, Phos-Chek 3. The military-approved AFFF formulation is PFOS-free and contains only trace amounts of PFOA. Delivery began in August 2016 and all foam in fire vehicles and fire stations will be replaced by 2017. As of Nov. 1, Schiess said legacy AFFF has been removed from all of Peterson’s fire vehicles and all but one have been re-stocked with Phos-Chek 3. 

Correll said the Air Force looks to the EPA for standards and guidance on environmental issues, and will continue to take proactive steps to protect communities for negative impact from mission activities. He noted that not only did the service follow both the EPA’s 2009 provisional advisory and the lifetime health advisory, but also took the additional step of replacing AFFF, even though there is no prohibition against using the existing stock.

“Our job is to ensure we follow the regulations, created by experts like the EPA and CDCs,” Correll said. “When we have guidance, we take action. And although PFOS and PFOA are unregulated, we are taking measures to protect drinking water supplies associated with our installations.” 

Schiess highlighted additional measures the base is taking to reduce or eliminate future PFOS/PFOA exposures, to include retrofitting fire vehicles with an ecologic system that tests system function using water instead of foam and treating uncontained releases as a hazardous-material spill, requiring immediate cleanup. 

Schiess also told community leaders the investigation into missing water from a large holding tank in the fire training area revealed a discharge into the CSU sewer system did not take place. The investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, EPA and base civil engineers concluded the missing water likely evaporated.

“In our effort to be to be transparent to our community we may have released information on the possible water discharge before evaluating all possibilities,” Schiess said. “We live and work within El Paso County, and we will continue to build and strengthen our relationships with the place we call home.”  

Schiess said the base will continue working with CSU to ensure the base stays in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations and discuss plans regarding future water disposals.