Home Chemical InformationPFAS-PFOS-PFOA The Military is Poisoning America’s Groundwater – A Photo Essay
Civilian Exposure - Military Contamination - PFAS

The Military is Poisoning America’s Groundwater – A Photo Essay

by Pat Elder

Civilian Exposure - Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan
Aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, leaches into the ground at the Battle Creek
Air National Guard Base, Michigan.  

PFAS found in drinking water near Battle Creek National Guard Base.

America is experiencing one of the greatest public health crises in its history with up to 110 million people  potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with Per and Poly Fluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS. A major source of the chemical contamination comes from the aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) used in routine fire-training on military bases. The military allows the poisons to leach into the groundwater to contaminate neighboring communities which use groundwater in their wells and municipal water systems.  

The Pentagon assumes no liability and refuses to pay for cleaning up the contamination it has caused.  Army Col. Andrew Wiesen, the DOD’s Director of Preventive Medicine for the Office of Health Affairs says the contamination is the responsibility of the EPA. “We don’t do the primary research in this area,” he told the Marine Corps Times. “The EPA is responsible for that,” he said. “DoD has not independently looked at the compounds and does not have “additional research into this, about the health effects of PFOS/PFOA, at least as far as I know.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force won’t reimburse three Colorado communities for the money spent responding to water contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam.  The AFFF was previously used at Peterson Air Force Base, potentially leaving the towns with an $11 million tab. The Air Force claimed other sources likely contributed to the aquifer’s contamination, though none has been identified.

More than 3,000 harmful PFAS chemicals have been developed. Two of the deadliest are Perfluoro Octane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluoro Octanoic Acid (PFOA). They’re extremely useful in extinguishing super-hot petroleum fires.

PFOS & PFOA are known as the “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally degrade in the environment. The military branches are in the process of switching to other slightly less lethal fire-fighting foams.

The EPA continues to allow deadly PFAS contaminants to be used while Harvard scientists say 1 part per trillion (ppt) is likely to be harmful to human health.

The EPA’s combined Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) limit for both chemicals is 70 ppt while the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has set lifetime drinking water levels of 11 ppt for PFOA and 7 ppt for PFOS.

The following photo essay endeavors to associate routine AFFF exercises on military bases with heightened levels of poisoned groundwater in adjacent communities.  

The amount of PFOS/PFOA contamination in groundwater wells is taken from this DOD report.  Remarks made by the DOD in the report are also included.

Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado

Firefighters at Peterson Air Force Base conduct live training with AFFF. Notice the grassy area just beyond the foam.
July 21, 2014 – U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Golembesky

88,400 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments: Private well owners provided under-sink (kitchen) reverse osmosis (RO) units. Bottled water is being provided to employees of a shopping center. Low-flow granular activated carbon (GAC) systems installed at one (1) mobile home park and one (1) farm house. One local church was connected to city water.  Bottled water is being provided to 52 units in another mobile home park.

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In October, 2016 more than 150,000 gallons  of the firefighting chemicals were released into the Colorado Springs Utilities sewer system.  

Elgin AFB, Florida

Civilian Exposure - Elgin AFB, Florida
It took two minutes for the carcinogenic aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to cover the 90,000 square foot hanger with 3 feet of foam at Eglin AF Base, Florida.   – via youmustvotenato / Reddit

280,000 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments: Completed the base-wide Preliminary Assessment and received regulatory concurrence on the findings.  Initiated a base-wide Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA.

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia

U.S. Air Force fire fighter during a training drill at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, on Sept. 19, 2018.  – U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell

2,200,000 ppt PFOS+PFOA detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:  Completed the base-wide Preliminary Assessment and received regulatory concurrence on the findings.  Initiated a base-wide Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA.

Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota

AFFF test at Ellsworth AFB. Is the US military valuing jet fighters above human health? YouTube – Tom Bodgero

551,000 ppt PFOS+PFOA detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:   Completed a limited Preliminary Assessment/Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA received regulatory concurrence on the findings. Initiated a Remedial Investigation at the former fire training area and completed the first phase of fieldwork in Summer 2017.  Initiated a base wide Site Inspection.

Fairchild AFB, Washington

A routine test of the AFFF system at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, April 8, 2015.

5,700 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:  43 out of 104 private drinking wells, and 1 of 2 public water systems exceeded the LHA at Fairchild.  Negotiate MOU with local municipality; potentially install GAC filtration on public DW water system; ECD -to be determined. Install whole house filtration systems in residences with affected private Drinking wells.

Travis AFB, California

Civilian Exposure - Travis AFB
The AFFF system is tested in a celebratory fashion at Travis AFB, California.
Potentially cancerous foam falls like snowflakes among the crowd.

YouTube – Allen Stoddard

40,000 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments: Completed the base-wide Preliminary Assessment and received regulatory concurrence on the findings.  Initiated a base-wide Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA.

Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Florida

Routine firefighting at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  –Action News Jax

1,397,120 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD: No Comments

Eielson AFB, Alaska

Civilian Exposure - Eielson AFB
A crash crewman sprays a foam/water agent on an Alaska Air National Guard KC-135E Stratotanker aircraft that exploded and burned while taxiing to a parking area. Eielson AFB, Alaska

2,000,000 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:  Completed the base-wide Preliminary Assessment and received regulatory concurrence on the findings. Initiated a base-wide Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA.

Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, California

Technicians perform a test on a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS)
 – U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.

1,080,000 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD: No Comments

Beale AFB, California

A Beale fire truck sprays down a simulated aircraft fire – Beale Air Force Base

200,000 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:   Completed the base-wide Preliminary Assessment and received regulatory concurrence on the findings.  Initiated a base-wide Site Inspection for PFOS and PFOA.

Mountain Home AFB, Idaho

A routine foam test at Mountain Home AFB. Mountain Home Air Force Base

Unusually low 105 ppt (PFOS+PFOA) detected in groundwater

DOD Comments:   Drinking water sampling and analysis have occurred. Bottled water was purchased as an interim safety measure while the contaminated wells were evaluated, and a plan was developed.

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