From the Commander: Groundwater and transparency

  • Published
  • By Col. Ryan Samuelson
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander

As some of you may have seen in the news or your social media feeds in the past days and weeks, the base is working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory partners as we test well water on and off base for Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and/or Perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOA) to determine if these compounds pose a risk to drinking water. Partnership and transparency with our Airmen, their families and the local community will always be a top priority for me as the base commander. My goal is to reinforce open communication while we navigate this complex issue.

Because we care about both our on and off-base communities, we began sampling water on and off base in the past couple months. All sources used by Fairchild have been tested and are either non-detect or below the EPA's lifetime “Health Advisory” levels. However, sampling of some private wells near the base showed elevated levels of PFOS/PFOAs. Those affected were notified immediately and provided bottled water until a long-term solution can be put in place.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center determined additional sampling was needed based on hydrogeology and sampling assessments. We are currently moving forward with testing additional wells near the initial sampling area and, out of an abundance of caution, we have included wells owned by the municipalities of Medical Lake and Airway Heights. Those preliminary results are scheduled to arrive late next week.

PFOS/PFOAs are an unregulated and “emerging contaminant” still being studied by the EPA and health agencies. There are no Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory limits for PFOS/PFOAs, simply Health Advisories. The EPA uses the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule to collect data and increase its understanding of the prevalence and toxicity of PFOS/PFOAs to determine if a regulatory standard for drinking water is appropriate.

The EPA established lifetime Health Advisory levels for these compounds in 2016. The same year, the Air Force transitioned to a new environmentally responsible fire-fighting foam to fight aircraft fires.

PFOS/PFOAs are a man-made class of chemicals called perflourinated compounds, or PFCs. They have been used since the 1970s in a variety of residential, commercial and industrial products to include stains, paints, upholstery fabric, carpet, nonstick pans, floor wax, grease, food packaging and fire-fighting foam that many fire departments use for aircraft fires. Since PFOS/PFOAs are widespread, studies indicate most people and animals in the U.S. have measureable levels of the compounds in their blood.

If your drinking water were to contain PFOS/PFOAs, studies indicate you can reduce your exposure by using an alternate or treated water source. Carbon or reverse osmosis treatment systems have also shown the ability to remove PFOS/PFOA compounds. Health experts state it is generally safe to bathe and shower in water with elevated PFOS/PFOA levels.

The Air Force is committed to protecting the drinking water supplies of our on and off-base communities and will continue to work closely with regulators and community partners to protect human health.

We have scheduled a public meeting May 23, at 6:00 p.m. at Medical Lake High School to allow community members to learn more about this topic. Subject-matter experts will be on hand to provide additional information and address questions and concerns. Anyone is welcome to attend.

If there are any questions on this matter please do not hesitate to contact the Fairchild Public Affairs Office at (509) 247-5705 or at