The eight American companies that made or used perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) agreed to stop doing so in 2006. These, and other, "emerging contaminants" have “a perceived, potential, or real threat to human health or the environment.” Some of these man-made chemicals have been linked to an array of health effects, including obesity in children, reproductive problems and cancers. In the Intercept's special report (link above) writer Sharon Lerner pieces together an alarming picture detailing the use of PFC-containing firefighting foam in the United States, primarily at military bases.
Since jet fuel loves to burn and is notoriously immune to water the chemical giant 3M, in conjunction with the Navy, developed Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) about 50 years ago to solve the problem of extinguishing airplane crash fires. It has been used for both emergencies and for regular training exercises in which sailors, airmen and soldiers learn how to smother jet fuel fires to put out flames.
In 2009 the EPA released a Provisional Health Advisory on PFOS and PFOA which calculated the maximum levels that we should be exposed to through drinking water: For PFOS it was 0.2 ppb; for PFOA, 0.4 ppb. After testing began in 2016, many places were found to have levels of PFOAs and PFOSs that were thousands of times higher than the latest advised levels. AtNaval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada PFOA has been recorded in the groundwater at levels as high as 6,720 ppb. At Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan one plume of groundwater had concentrations of total PFCs between 100,000 and 250,000 ppb.
While the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Department of Defense are investigating the contamination, they continue to use PFC-containing firefighting foam. While the EU and Canada have banned the use of stockpiled foam containing PFOS, the U.S. has no restrictions on its use.
In 2011, the C8 Science Panel began releasing findings of health studies that show “probable links” between PFOA and a variety of illnesses including cancer.
Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS) are fluorinated organic chemicals we have been exposed to that were used to make carpets, clothing, cookware (teflon coating) and food packagings that are resistant to water, grease or stains. They are also used to make Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) used in firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a Lifetime Health Advisory to provide Americans with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water. The EPA established the advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion. When both PFOA and PFOS are found in drinking water, the combined concentrationsof PFOA and PFOS should be compared with the 70 parts per trillion health advisory level.
In 2016 a Department of Defense initiative began sampling water at over 660 military installations nationwide.• Sources: EPA • EPA PDF • DoD
In November 2016, Capt. Geoff Moore, Commanding Officer, NAS Whidbey Island announced that the Navy would begin hosting public meetings in Oak Harbor and Coupeville to discuss the Navy’s plan to test drinking well water for potential contamination of certain perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that were used in an earlier formulation of aqueous film forming foam used in firefighting. The Navy has proactively undertaken this effort to ensure protection of drinking well water quality on and around its bases following the announcement of a lifetime health advisory by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2016. The EPA initiated the advisory for two PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They fall into a category called emerging contaminants that the EPA currently considers unregulated.
These chemical compounds have been widely used commercially since the 1950s and are present throughout the environment. These compounds have been used for many years to make products that reduce friction, resist heat, protect against stains, and remove grease. While there is no current indication that use of these compounds have migrated away from areas where they were used in firefighting or firefighting training, we are working closely with local communities, water authorities, regional and local health agencies, Federal and State Environmental Protection Agencies, and Congressional and State officials to ensure the public is not exposed to levels of PFOA/PFOS in their drinking water above the EPA’s health advisories.
Phase One initial testing at the OLF was was done and seven private wells just south of the OLF tested above EPA levels. Phase 2 testing outside the 1-mile radius has begun in the area south of the OLF, including Admiral's Cove. The Admiral's Cove well will be tested between February 20th and March 4th, and the sample will be sent to two different laboratories. The results must match for the test to be validated. Phase 2 testing will also be done in areas east and south of Ault Field.
The Navy has hosted public meetings in Oak Harbor and Coupeville to provide information to the public on the water contamination issue from their perspective and to discuss the Navy’s plan to test drinking well water for potential contamination of the perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that were used in an earlier formulation of aqueous film forming foam used in firefighting. The Navy has proactively undertaken this effort to ensure protection of drinking well water quality on and around its bases following the announcement of a lifetime health advisory by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year.
On February 9th, the newly formed Whidbey Water Keepers held a meeting at Coupeville High School. Once their website is up and running, it will provide information from the perspective of those affected outside of the Navy's property.
Information provided at the meetings and by mail is provided below as well as links to other information about PFOA and PFOS contamination.