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PFAS found in drinking water near Battle Creek National Guard base

By MALACHI BARRETT | Kalamazoo Gazette, Mich. | Published: July 19, 2018

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — Two homes are being provided bottled water after high levels of contaminants possibly connected to a nearby military base were discovered in their drinking water wells.

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs collected environmental samples at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base starting April 16 to assess the potential for drinking water contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS, found in firefighting foam.

At the same time, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tested 61 drinking water wells at homes within a 1-mile radius of the base.

Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Scott Dean said results from 29 of those 61 wells had been received as of July 18. Of those, two tested above above the 70 parts-per-trillion EPA health advisory, while 11 others showed some level of PFAS but were below 70 ppt.

Five other wells not used for drinking water were also tested by DEQ. PFAS was found in two groundwater monitor wells at concentrations above 70 ppt.

Two irrigation wells had no amount of PFAS. The compound was detected in one irrigation well, but levels were found to be below 70 ppt.

A public meeting on the results is scheduled for Monday, July 30, at Burma Center, 765 Upton Ave. in Springfield. An open house will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Sampling at the base was part of an Air National Guard investigation to assess potential risks to drinking water connected to historic use of certain firefighting foams.

The fire suppressant was developed by the U.S. military and is widely used at commercial airports, military bases and fire departments. It is also known as AFFF.

A 2015 preliminary assessment identified 13 areas where firefighting foam was used at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. At the time, 1,620 gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS compounds were stored in several buildings.

According to the report, released in 2016, fire training was conducted in four locations from the 1950s through 1986. The report includes details of emergency uses and accidental spills of the firefighting foam.

"AFFF was used here for decades, that's why an investigation was pursued," said 1st Lt. Andrew Layton. "We know there was a chance for concentrations of PFAS."

This year, environmental samples were taken from 13 sites of likely contamination on the base. Samples were collected in April and through May 11.

A final report on PFAS contamination found at the base is expected to be released at the end of the summer, Layton said. If high levels of the compound is found, the investigation could be expanded.

Cleanup and mitigation efforts would follow.

PFAS is an acronym for a collection of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which were used in a variety of products such as firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and Scotchgard. PFAO and PFOA are among two of the most extensively studied PFAS chemicals. The contaminants have been found at sites scattered across Michigan.

The Air Force began using the PFAS-containing foam in 1970. In 2015, Layton said, the foam was replaced with a new formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA.

Michigan's first known PFAS site was the the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. The DEQ pulled its first samples from the base in 2010; the state issued a "do not eat" fish advisory two years later; and nearby homeowners were told to stop drinking from private wells in 2016.

Since then, PFAS-contaminated drinking water has been discovered at or near the closed K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base near Marquette, Alpena National Guard Training Center, the Camp Grayling joint maneuvers base and both Battle Creek and Selfridge Air National Guard bases.

A 160-foot-deep well supplied the base's water until 1986. The city of Battle Creek supplies the base drinking water today.

Fire protection services at the nearby W.K. Kellogg Airport are managed by the city of Battle Creek.

The Air National Guard's investigation and mitigation actions are guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, state laws and the EPA's drinking water health advisory.

Because the Battle Creek airbase was a known historic user of AFFF, Dean said environmental testing began on-site and moved outward into the community.

Wells were tested in Battle Creek, Springfield and Bedford Township.

Hangars which stored the firefighting foam, areas where firefighting equipment was tested and stormwater outfalls were also identified in the report.

Drainage from the base flows to the north and northwest, ultimately into the Kalamazoo River about two miles east.

Surface runoff at the base discharges through a system of stormwater inlets and underground drain pipes that direct runoff to one of two outfalls. Both outfalls drain into grassy swales and ditches flowing to the perimeter of the property.

According to the 2016 report, 10 gallons of foam were released in 2004 when an aircraft landed on the runway on its belly.

In November 2014, a Battle Creek firefighter accidentally released more than 1,500 gallons of a firefighting foam and water mixture at the guard base. According to an after-action report, a firefighter accidentally turned on a water turret while inspecting it, spraying the mixture onto an asphalt and dirt road.

Around 300 cubic feet of contaminated soil was scraped from the site and disposed of. The DEQ was notified at the time.

Five gallons of foam were used to put out a fire when an aircraft crashed in August 2015.

The west-central portion of the base was used for fire training activities from 1977-86. Approximately 54,000-74,000 gallons of a mixture of jet propulsion fuel, waste oils, waste hydraulic fluid and spent cleaning solvents was reportedly floated on water inside the area, ignited and extinguished.

In 1991, soil in the burn area was visibly contaminated, and fuel odors were noted during field activities. Several volatile organic compounds and metals were detected in the soils from the surface to the water table.

From 1992 to 2003, several remediation activities were completed, including installation of a bioventing system and a 12-inch, 105-foot-diameter clay cap. The site received a no further action letter from the DEQ in 2003.

One site in the southwest portion of the airport was used to burn a damaged aircraft before it was shipped off-base for disposal. An estimated 1,800 to 2,400 gallons of fuel and solvents were used there.

Sampling in 1991 and 1992 found volatile organic compounds in the groundwater, but it was not analyzed for PFAS at the time. The area was excavated and capped with asphalt by 1996.

©2018 Kalamazoo Gazette, Mich.
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