Potentially contaminated water at 15 sites identified on Patrick Air Force Base and at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station caused by fire-suppression does not put personnel at risk, according to government reports.
Data released by the U.S. Air Force on May 1 states that water samples passed tests conducted in 2017.
The contaminants in question (PFOS and PFOA) are synthetic fluorinated organic compounds used in many industrial and consumer products, including Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF. The foam has been used by civilian aviation, industry and the military services since the 1970s to extinguish petroleum fires at military and civilian airports, including on the two local bases.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency set a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS/PFOA in drinking water.
The Air Force report notes that the compounds have been linked in studies to developmental delays in children, decreased fertility and cancer, among other health problems.
In turn, although the contaminants are so far unregulated by EPA, the Air Force started working toward identifying releases of the foam, investigating and responding to drinking water contamination, and working to prevent future contamination.
Locally, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center reviewed base-wide records during a preliminary assessment completed in 2017 to identify five sites at Cape Canaveral and 10 sites at Patrick for review, including fire training areas, crash sites and other areas where AFFF was used.
AFCEC then conducted site inspections of those area to verify if AFFF was released and if it poses a risk to drinking water supplies. The site inspection included groundwater sampling; however, groundwater is not used as a drinking water resource on the barrier islands at those locations. All drinking water comes from mainland sources miles away from the bases.
“To date, the Air Force has not identified any drinking water source at risk from contamination due to military firefighting activities” on the two bases, said Lori O’Donley, chief of media engagement, 45th Space Wing, Parick Air Force Base.
Changes made as a result of the overall issue with the foam include that both bases in 2016 replaced the problem formula AFFF in their fire crash rescue trucks with a new formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA. Firefighters also have stringent procedures for use of the new foam, treating any uncontained releases of AFFF as if it were a hazardous-material spill and requiring immediate cleanup.
PFOS and PFOA are man-made chemicals which can be used to make items heat- or water-resistant.