If you follow environmental news, you’re familiar with PFAS, which stands for “polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances,” a group of chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, two of the chemical compounds getting the most negative attention of late. PFAS were previously called PFCs, FCs or fluorocarbons; these chemicals come in numerous varieties (5,000 or so), and they are now being discovered in water supplies all over the United States—at dangerous levels. Just recently, PFAS were found in the groundwater at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The chemicals known collectively as PFAS are often associated with 3M and DuPont manufacturing plants and are characterized by bonds between carbon and fluorine making them some of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. Consumers may be more familiar with the names of two of the most studied forms of PFAS: PFOS (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), once used in Scotchgard and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), also called C-8 and once used to make Teflon non-stick cooking pans.
To learn more about the impact of C-8 on humans and the environment as well as the cover-up relating to C-8, you should check out the movie, The Devil We Know.
Military and Their Families at High Risk of PFAS Exposure
Military families have recently found out that they are at severe risk of ingesting PFAS chemicals since these contaminants have leeched into the groundwater around military bases. PFAS chemicals are found in the fire-fighting foam that is used in training on military bases, and these chemicals expose countless military members and their unsuspecting families to high levels of these deadly toxins. PFAS chemicals in groundwater pose a life-threatening health crisis for the families living in close proximity to the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado and other military bases in the United States. Studies show that PFAS chemicals are found in 99% of the American population, and on a daily basis, millions of people ingest drinking water with unsafe levels of PFAS.
PFAS at the Air Force Academy
According to Michael Kucharek, an Air Force Academy spokesman, four sites were found to have chemical levels higher than an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. While he declined to name the exact four sites in the report, in 2018, an Air Force Academy report cited these four locations as possible sites for further PFAS inspection:
- Academy fire training area
- Academy fire station and spray test area
- Academy airfield spray test area
- Academy’s water treatment plant and nonpotable reservoir (“nonpotable” water is water that is not suitable for drinking)
The Air Force has already spent over $50 million on contamination and says 203 of its bases are potentially polluted. Peterson Air Force Base is, by far, the largest area affected by the contamination to date.
The toxic firefighting foam was used in the early 1970’s, and, more recently, the foam was used in a training area that flushed into wastewater treatment plants, which are unable to remove the chemicals. At one site at Peterson Air Force Base, PFAS measured 88,000 parts per trillion (ppt), which is several thousand times greater than the EPA’s health advisory threshold of 70 ppt.
Unhappy with the federal government’s handling of the PFAS in drinking water problem, many states have taken action into their hands. Earlier this year, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the regulatory process for establishing drinking water standards for PFAS. New Hampshire has also taken action to protect its residents from PFAS-contaminated drinking water.