Tests ordered after possible drinking water contamination at North Dakota military bases

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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live): A developing story out of north Fargo where the Air National Guard Base has potentially contaminated water. The government is ordering tests after firefighting chemicals may have leaked into the water table at six North Dakota sites, including the Grand Forks Air Force Base and Hector International Airport in Fargo.

They’re called PFC’s, compounds in chemicals mandated to be used by the military to extinguish jet fuel fires. But there’s a problem. The compounds do not break down when out in the environment. Now the base in Fargo is one over 600 Department of Defense (DoD) sites being investigated for possible groundwater contamination.

According to a statement Valley News Live received from the DoD they “have just begun the process of evaluating these sites to assess the risk to groundwater” and “we do not have the full scope of the extent” of contamination.

Here’s the DoD response in full from Lt. Col. Eric Badger:

As of the end of Fiscal Year 2014, DoD has identified 664 fire or crash training sites. The Military Departments have just begun the process of evaluating these sites to assess the risk to groundwater in accordance with CERCLA. Because we are in the early stages of the cleanup process, we do not have the full scope of the extent of perfluorinated chemicals contamination and the actions the Department needs to take to address the risks to human health and the environment.

DoD uses Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) that contains PFCs because PFCs are required to meet the military performance specification. Until non-PFC formulations are certified, DoD is implementing measures to prevent uncontrolled releases of firefighting foams during maintenance and firefighting training exercises. Additionally, DoD will be removing stocks of PFOS-based foams where practical. Non-PFOS based foams, which do contain shorter-chain PFCs, will continue to be the main product used for fire-fighting until non-PFC formulations can be tested and certified to meet the military performance specifications.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the Federal agency responsible for determining toxicity levels and associated regulatory standards. DoD relies on EPA to provide guidance on the toxicity and public health issues related to PFOA and PFOS. After reviewing the latest science, in February 2014, EPA released draft documents entitled "Health Effects Document for Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)." These draft documents contain proposed toxicity values for PFOA and PFOS and, when finalized, will replace the Provisional Health Advisory for PFOS and PFOA issued in 2009. DoD uses the EPA's Provisional Health Advisory for PFOS/PFOA to determine if there is an unacceptable risk to human health, and to take any appropriate response actions.

At a press conference Friday morning, Valley News Live Reporter asked Col. Kent Olson, Commander of the 119th Wing about the report.

“Well I’m not aware of the report but obviously we had our fire department out there which most recently, the reason that I say that is that we used to provide, our fire fighters provided all the fire protection for Hector airfield,” said Col. Olson.

A spokesman for the Air National Guard Base tells Valley News Live they are going to find out more about this in the next week or so and people are coming to the base to test the water. They added it involves their firefighters using a small amount of chemicals that may or may not have leeched into the groundwater. The spokesman said every base in the country is being checked for this issue as all units and firefighters use this chemical. Furthermore, they said the 119th Wing is of no more concern than any other unit, and that only a small amount of the firefighting chemicals are used.

So what are these chemicals? According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), PFC’s are used to make materials stain and water resistant, slippery and long lasting. They are also used in fire fighting foam, adding that “there is a growing body of scientific evidence that PFC’s may be toxic to humans and to ecosystems.” The agency says people are exposed to these compounds every day in food, water and dust. But PFC’s can cause serious health issues, according to the organization. These include elevated thyroid hormone levels, higher rates of prostate cancer and high cholesterol. High levels of PFC’s can cause abnormal sperm levels, low birth weight and in women, difficulty in conceiving a child and early menopause.

Groundwater tests from military bases on the East Coast have found neighboring homes of those facilities were affected with chemical levels higher than is recommended by the EPA. However, the EPA does not regulated these chemicals.