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Air Force Response to PFOS and PFOA
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, are a group of manmade chemicals used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes including: nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and firefighting foam.
In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established health advisory levels in drinking water for two types of PFAS - perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The EPA has not established regulatory standards for PFOS and PFOA, but evolving science has identified potential risk to humans and regulatory standards are under consideration.
PFOS and PFOA are components of legacy Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) that the Air Force began using in the 1970s as a firefighting agent to extinguish petroleum fires. AFFF was used extensively at Fairchild AFB from the 1970s until 2016 to fight petroleum fires.
In November 2015, more environmentally responsible AFFF formulas were added to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) qualified products list for firefighting agents. The Air Force began replacing both PFOS-based and other legacy AFFF products with a new, environmentally responsible formula in August 2016. The Air Force completed new foam delivery in August 2017.
PFOS/PFOA dissolve easily in water and can travel with the groundwater. PFOS/PFOA are unregulated compounds classified as “emerging contaminants” by the EPA because information about PFOS/PFOA are evolving as additional studies are conducted. The Air Force’s investigation work and mitigation actions are guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), applicable state laws, and the EPA's lifetime drinking water health advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Learn more about CERCLA.
For PFOS/PFOA contaminated wells located within the sampling area that have been sampled and tested above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) of 70 ppt, the Air Force is offering two options:
1. Connection to a municipal water supply
2. Installation of a Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) filtration system
Residential treatment systems are designed with three GAC filtration tanks for redundancy and increased safety. GAC removes contaminants, including PFAS compounds, from drinking water through adsorption. The systems also include particulate filters to remove any sediment/sand from the well, and an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system for additional removal of bacteria and microorganisms. Sampling and routine maintenance of treatment systems is conducted quarterly. A 24-hour hotline is available for emergency repairs and response.
The Air Force has sampled many private drinking water wells in these areas over the last several years. Sampling is offered to residences with private wells used for drinking water located within the shaded areas of either map. To request sampling and to verify that your residence is eligible for sampling, please contact the Fairchild Air Force Base Public Affairs office at (509) 247-5705 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Air Force will evaluate your situation to determine eligibility for sampling based on the location of your drinking water well in relation to the off-base contamination impacts and verify that your residence is within the area of concern. If your residence is eligible and has not been previously sampled, the residence will be added to the well sampling list and sampled as soon as practical. A copy of the sampling results will be provided to you. If contamination is found above the health advisory or drinking water standards, the Air Force will work with you to mitigate the contaminants in the well. Please note that all sampling and mitigation costs are paid for by the Air Force.
2022-2023 Sampling Season
Sampling of private drinking water wells is conducted on a quarterly basis. If you live in or have a business in the sampling area and are already in the Air Force testing program, you will receive a postcard in the mail inviting you to have your well tested. Postcards are mailed out four times a year. If you have not received a postcard, it is likely that you are not in an area where sampling is offered. If you would like to check your eligibility for sampling and have not had sampling conducted previously, please contact Fairchild AFB Public Affairs at (509) 247-5705. We encourage everyone within the eligible areas that utilize a well for drinking water purposes to have their home or business tested.
Testing Your Home or Business for PFOS/PFOA
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) is currently evaluating if additional sampling is needed based on hydrogeological data combined with the results from previous sampling rounds. If residents’ wells have not already been tested, it may be because they are not within the area determined to be at risk for possible Air Force-related contamination, or the well just has not been sampled previously.
If your drinking water well is within the sample area and you have not been contacted, please contact the Fairchild AFB Public Affairs office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at (509) 247-5705. Residents can also pursue private well sampling at their own expense. Information regarding private well sampling can be obtained by contacting the Spokane Regional Health District at (509) 324-1574.
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is another chemical historically used at Fairchild AFB that has made its way into the environment. TCE can be found on-base in soils and groundwater, and just outside of the base boundaries in the groundwater to the north and east of the installation. TCE is a chlorinated solvent primarily used as a degreaser for metal products that is nonflammable and colorless, and at high concentrations, has an odor similar to ether or chloroform.
Like PFOS/PFOA, TCE dissolves easily in water and can travel with the groundwater, but differs in that it can degrade by natural processes. TCE is a common contaminant found in many places all around the world. Environmental professionals at Fairchild AFB have identified where TCE contamination is located on and off-base, and have taken steps to mitigate this compound in soil and groundwater.
The Air Force is not currently testing for TCE contamination. If you feel you live in an area with potential TCE contamination, please contact the Fairchild AFB Restoration Team at (509) 247-2450.
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Department of Defense (DoD)
Centers for Disease Control Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (CDC ATSDR)
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Fairchild AFB Restoration Team
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10
Washington State Department of Ecology