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Department of the Air Force Response to PFAS

  • By UNITED STATES AIR FORCE MARCH 2022

Background: What are PFAS? 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS are a group of synthetic fluorinated chemicals. Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, or PFOS and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, or PFOA are two organic chemicals within the PFAS group that were used in industrial and consumer products such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and specialized foam. 

PFOS and PFOA are the only two compounds of the PFAS group with established Environmental Protection Agency health advisories for drinking water. 

  • In 1970, the Department of the Air Force DAF began using the firefighting agent Aqueous Film Forming Foam which contained PFOS and PFOA. AFFF is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum-based fires and is widely used across the firefighting industry, to include all commercial airports, to protect people and property. AFFF is being phased out. 
  • The Air Force Civil Engineer Center began a comprehensive assessment process in 2010 to identify locations where PFOS/PFOA may have been released across the Air Force at active, Reserve, Air National Guard and closed installations. 
  •  On May 19, 2016, the EPA established a lifetime Health Advisory or HA level of 70 parts per trillion for a combined PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. For context, one ppt is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The EPA classifies these compounds as "emerging contaminants" for which the risk to human health is not yet known and regulatory standards are evolving. 

 

Air Force Response 

AFCEC is taking a three-step approach – identify, respond, prevent – to assess and respond to potential PFOS/ PFOA in drinking water. 

  •  In 2017, the Air Force completed enterprise-wide sampling of drinking water at all installations — stateside and overseas — to ensure drinking water supplies meet EPA guidelines. 
  • To-date, the Air Force continues to meet PFAS monitoring requirements as mandated in the 2020 Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure memoranda. 
  •  In the United States, AFCEC is conducting additional sampling to identify potential AFFF releases, determine the extent of the PFOS/PFOA and map possible pathways to drinking sources. 

CERCLA 

The Air Force’s investigation work and response actions are guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, applicable state laws and the EPA's HA for drinking water. 

The Air Force is moving forward aggressively in accordance with the CERCLA process to fully investigate releases, prioritize responses and determine appropriate response actions based on risk. Following the CERCLA process makes certain thorough investigative work is done; the process also promotes accountability, community involvement and long-term protectiveness. 

Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Office of Public Affairs 

2261 Hughes Ave, Ste 155, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland TX 78236-9853 

(210) 925-0956 AFIMSC.PA.Workflow@us.af.mil