The Air Force has no immediate plans to dig up or otherwise mitigate remains of a firefighting chemical linked to ill health effects because while the chemicals have been confirmed to be in groundwater at the former base in Rome the water is not used for drinking.
Rome’s municipal water comes from Fish Creek and the Tagasoke Reservoir in the Tug Hill region in Lewis County.
The Air Force is continuing its investigation of the extent of contamination at a closed jet-fuel depot in Verona where nearby residents also do not use groundwater for drinking.
Tests by a contractor for the Air Force found concentrations of a firefighting chemical linked to health effects exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe concentration at 13 groundwater locations at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome and in two adjacent creeks.
The chemicals are perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA.
They are from a class of chemicals used in many products including Teflon, waterproofing fabric and coating on fast-food wrappers. Studies have associated the chemicals with effects on children’s growth and learning, fertility, hormones, the immune system and increased cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 1970, the Air Force began using a firefighting foam that contained PFOS to put out petroleum fires. Some forms may also include PFOA. PFOS and PFOA are used in certain firefighting foams that form a film that keeps oxygen away from fuel, such as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.
In 2000, most makers of consumer products began phasing out the use of these chemicals. The military is phasing it out in its firefighting or replaced it altogether.
New York state is suing makers of the firefighting foam used at commercial and military airports in the state. The suit is in its early stages.
Not in drinking water; no requirement
In the case of Griffiss, the division of the Defense Department responsible for closed military installations said its priority is locations where the chemicals may be in sources of drinking water.
“Since the groundwater at these locations has no pathway to any potential drinking water sources and is not used for anything else, such as irrigation, the Air Force is not required to take any interim mitigation actions at this time,” said a statement issued by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center after the Sentinel inquired about results of the final inspection report issued in November.
The November report was written by Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, formerly Amec Foster Wheeler Environment and Infrastructure. The report was issued after the firm conducted a preliminary assessment of suspected contaminated sites at the base, taking samples of groundwater, soil and surface water at locations suspected of having firefighting foam residue from training, storage, disposal or putting out fires, including the site of a crash of a B-52.
The consultants then surveyed the area and checked with the city of Rome and town of Floyd to make sure no one in homes and commercial establishments in the vicinity used groundwater for drinking.
There was no sign of the chemicals in the Mohawk River, and there’s no water intake within four miles, according to the consultant’s report.
Concentration of chemicals
The chemicals have been getting increased attention in the past five years from federal and state regulators and environmental and public-health advocacy organizations.
In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a provisional health advisory level of 200 parts per trillion for PFOS and 400 for PFOA. The EPA included these as substances to be monitored under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and in 2014 provided a draft health assessment for peer review. In 2016, the EPA issued a new lifetime health advisory for PFOS and PFOA concentrations of 70 parts per trillion individually or combined.
The EPA’s advisory comes to .07 micrograms per liter. A microgram, or millionth, can be visualized as about one cup of water in a swimming pool, according to the Center for Hazardous Substance Research at Kansas State University. A billionth would be a drop of water in a pool, and a trillionth is one one-thousandth of that.
Readings at Griffiss ranged from not detected to as high as 72 micrograms per liter, which was at a former fire station. This is likely the result of small undocumented releases when firefighting foam was transferred onto fire trucks, according to the Defense Department’s consultant.
The second highest concentration was found in an area on the former base used for putting out fires in firefighting training. One form of the chemicals, PFOS, was also detected in the soil there. The consultant’s report said soils were likely affected by firefighting training there but are unlikely to be encountered by humans unless the underground soil is exposed.
At building 101, a vast former Air Force hangar that formerly housed aircraft repair and maintenance company Premiere Aviation, concentrations were found of .89 to 1.83 micrograms per liter in groundwater, attributed to releases from the building’s fire suppression system or from underground storage tanks for waste firefighting foam. Concentrations of .9 micrograms per liter were found at adjacent building 100.
Not a hindrance to development
Contamination at Griffiss is widely known. Solvents, lead and volatile organic compounds are noted in a 2010 business plan for the airport, as was work to remove much of them. The presence of the chemicals from firefighting foam has been reported before, but the extent of the contamination and concentrations at particular locations has not been reported.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said he believes the presence of residues from the firefighting foam is not likely an obstacle to continued re-development of the county-owned former base, since contamination is common at former military installations, there’s no groundwater used for drinking water there, and the detected levels are very low.
Chemical also found at Verona site
The chemicals are also known to be at another Defense Department site in Oneida County: Defense Fuel Support Point Verona, a depot for jet fuel near the intersection of state Route 365 and the Thruway.
The Defense Logistics Agency’s Energy division is still looking into the extent of the chemicals at the Verona depot as requested by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, according to a statement from the agency. Findings will be submitted to the DEC, according to the statement.
Verona Supervisor Scott Musacchio said he’s aware of some activity at the depot but the town has not been involved. Residents there are on municipal water, provided by the city of Oneida, he said.
The health advisories from the EPA don’t trigger any particular action, but they offer guidance on how to handle waste under the Superfund law regarding clean up of known hazardous waste sites.
In 2017, the state designated PFOA and PFOAs as hazardous substances, which allows use of the state Superfund law to compel responsible parties to investigate and remediate. It’s under the law that the state DEC is cleaning up the remaining former Rome Cable site.
“The State Superfund cleanup goal is to attain groundwater quality conditions that meet standards and guidance, regardless of current use,” the DEC said in its statement to the Sentinel. “The state currently uses this HAL [health effects level] as guidance in determining an appropriate