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Air Force, State Health Department To Test Water Around Buckley AFB

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) -- Water wells within a one-mile drain path from Buckley Air Force Base will soon be tested for chemicals similar to those that have contaminated water sources adjacent to other military bases across the United States, the state health department and the Air Force announced Friday.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plan to begin taking sample from wells to the north and west of the base by February 18.

Well owners will be notified by February 10.

Water faucet (credit: CBS)

The operation seeks to determine whether firefighting foam used in prior years' aircraft fire training exercises has accumulated to levels deemed unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The foam was commonly used at commercial airports and military bases as a mean of smothering fires involving volatile aircraft fuel. Several compounds are the concern -- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The EPA issued a Lifetime
Health Advisory for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water in 2016. The chemicals are known to have considerable health effects.

"We live in the communities we serve; and we share concerns about the possible impact of our firefighting mission," said Jeffrey Domm, director of AFCEC's Environmental directorate. "We are taking aggressive action to assess the potential for PFOS/PFOA contamination of human drinking water and respond appropriately."

Firefighting Foam (from DVIDShub)
A firetruck hoses down a fire during a live-fire training exercise Jan. 24, 2020, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (credit: Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka/366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

There seems to be little question that the chemicals were absorbed into local water tables after they were washed from the base's tarmac, as was the practice after most training exercises at major airfields. But is it still a health risk to consumers who are using and drinking the water?

This pro-active testing hopes to answer that question.

Results of testing in other American cities have shown reason for concern, including the southern portion of Colorado Springs. There, the communities of Fountain, Security and Widefield are wrestling with PFAS contamination presumably caused by the use of firefighting foam at Peterson AFB.

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"The Air Force and CDPHE are continuing to partner in a proactive and collaborative approach to identifying and responding to these issues and concerns at Air Force installations across Colorado," said Tracie White, the Remediation Program Manager with CDPHE.

The South Adams County Water & Sanitation District shut down three wells in 2018 after the water supply near Interstate 270 and Quebec Street was found to measure high levels of PFAS. That location is approximately six miles northeast of Buckley.

Owners of wells near Buckley will be notified if testing reveals unacceptable levels of PFAS. In that case, the Air Force said it would immediately provide alternate sources of water, including bottled, and seek permanent resolution through the well owner and regulators.

BUCKLEY AIRPORT NOISE 10VO.transfer_frame_0
(credit: CBS)

First manufactured by 3M Co. in the 1950s, PFAS have been used by industry for decades in products such as Scotchgard and Teflon because of their ability to repel water and oil.

"It's nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals," David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, told Reuters.

The Air Force has now replaced the previous firefighting foam in Buckley emergency response vehicles with a new, more environmentally responsible formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA. Training and response procedures have also been changed to reduce the risk of contamination to nearby water sources.







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