A Department of Defense study showed groundwater at Dover AFB may contain cancer-causing chemical

The Air Force Times is reporting potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical have been found in water on or near at 126 military bases or former installations throughout the world, including Dover Air Force Base.

The report shows 36 of 67 sampled groundwater wells on Dover AFB showed unacceptable levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, or perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.

In addition, one contaminated well was found at a home near Dover Air Force Base.

Limited human studies have shown these chemicals, widely used in firefighting foams, may be associated with developmental delays in fetuses and children. They also could cause decreased fertility, changes to the immune system, prostate, kidney and testicular cancers and other illnesses.

According to a March 2018 report to the House Armed Services Committee, inspectors found no PFOS or PFOA in the public drinking water system servicing Dover Air Force Base. The base receives its drinking water through Dover’s city system, which uses wells several miles from the base.

The contaminated private well was one of 19 tested in the area immediately adjacent to areas on the base where the PFOS or PFOAs pollutants had been found, a 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office spokesman said in response to a Dover Post inquiry.

Citing the privacy rights of the property owners, base officials would not identify where the contaminants were found.

Information in the HASC report showed water from that off-base well indicated levels of 91 parts per trillion for combined concentrations of the chemicals. The EPA set a limit of 70 parts per trillion in 2016.

A government-funded activated carbon filtration system was installed at that home as a permanent solution to the problem. The Air Force will continue to sample and analyze water from the well and will provide new filters as needed.

The Public Affairs spokesman added, “The Air Force is currently planning for further investigation at those sites with groundwater impacts to determine human health risks and prioritize cleanup requirements.”

PFOS and PFOA do not break down through normal environmental processes; instead, they must be extracted and filtered from groundwater using granular activated carbon filters.

The 36 polluted groundwater wells on the base itself all showed contamination above the 70 ppt limit. The degree of contamination ranged from 77 ppt to 2.8 million.

“Groundwater testing was accomplished at on-base locations where fire-fighting foam is known or suspected to have been used,” according to the Public Affairs Office. “Since fire-fighting foam is used for emergency response involving aircraft, groundwater impacts at Dover AFB were primarily found at locations associated with the airfield and aircraft hangars.”

An EPA factsheet notes the manmade PFOS and PFOAs also are used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including carpet and clothing treatments. The foams create an aqueous film that cuts off oxygen fueling gasoline, diesel and oil fires.

Concerns about the chemicals have caused the Air Force to begin changing the type of firefighting sprays used on its installations.