After finding contaminated levels of water at Luke Air Force Base, officials are expanding inspections to surrounding areas in the West Valley.
U.S. Air Force officials on Wednesday released the results of a site inspection conducted in 2017 at Luke and the Gila Bend Air Force Auxilary Field, finding water health advisory levels to be above Environmental Protection Agency standards at the Glendale base.
However, officials said drinking water on base at Luke and Gila Bend remains safe for human consumption and there is no imminent health concerns to the public.
“The Air Force is taking this seriously because we want to be a good neighbor,” Becky Heyse, chief of public affairs for Luke’s 56th Fighter Wing, told the Daily News-Sun. “These chemicals are used in many objects we use on a daily basis from carpets to textiles and our understanding is that there is no immediate threat that residents should be concerned about.
“The EPA has not established regulatory enforcements for these substances, they’ve only issued the health advisory. At this time we are focused on determining if we’ve caused any contamination to drinking water from past firefighting activities and are dedicated to providing alternate drinking water.”
The inspection assessed the potential for Perfluorooctane Sulfanate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) to be present in ground and surface water due to past firefighting activities.
PFOS and PFOA are a group of manmade chemicals used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and firefighting foam. They have been used for many years to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center validated results of sampling of groundwater and surface water resulting in PFOS and PFOA levels at several sampled areas on Luke to be above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 parts per trillion.
The EPA LHA standard is advisory only and pertains only to drinking water, according to a release.
The EPA has not established or mandated a nationwide enforceable standard for drinking water nor has it promoted standards for ground or surface water. In the absence of a standard, the Air Force uses the advisory levels for drinking water as the standard for ground and surface water during site inspections, a release states.
As a result, an Expanded Site Inspection has began to determine if privately-owned wells within one mile of Luke have been impacted.
Ms. Heyse said those include Glendale, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, and unincorporated Maricopa County.
If the PFOS or PFOA are above the EPA advisory level in any drinking water wells, the Air Force will assess its role and authority to provide alternate drinking water to those affected and in developing a plan for long-term mitigation to drinking water.
“After a sample is collected preliminary results will be known within two to four weeks,” Ms. Heyse said.
Glendale said residents should not be concerned about impacts to water.
“Glendale Water Services is regularly testing our water and the latest water quality results for Glendale’s production wells continue to show PFAS are below the EPA health advisory,” Jay Crandall, Glendale public information officer, told the Daily News-Sun. “We want to stress that drinking water provided by Glendale Water Services is safe for human consumption.”
No further testing is needed at Gila Bend as its base passed inspections.
Officials said Luke and Gila Bend are two of 203 installations the Air Force identified as potential release locations for Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting agent containing PFOS and PFOA. Emergency fire response teams use the foam at commercial airports, the Air Force and other military services to fight petroleum-based fires.
In 1970, the Air Force began using AFFF to extinguish petroleum fires. AFFF is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum-based fires and is widely used across the firefighting industry, to include all commercial airports, to protect people and property.
The Air Force has since been moving away from legacy AFFF with a more environmentally-responsible formula containing no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA.
Luke replaced legacy AFFF in its fire vehicles in 2017 and all but one aircraft hangars with the replacement foam in 2018. The base also retrofitted its fire vehicles with a system that prevents foam discharge during equipment testing.
Gila Bend replaced legacy AFFF in its fire vehicles in 2016 with retrofitting occurring in 2017. There are no aircraft hangars at Gila Bend.
“We will continue moving forward aggressively in our investigation,” Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, 56th Fighter Wing commander, stated in a release. “Our goals are to protect human health, keep residents informed throughout the inspection and ensure safe drinking water.”
The city of Litchfield Park released a statement about the findings at Luke, and ensured its residents their water is safe.
“The water Liberty Utilities delivers to customers meets all applicable public health standards, including advisory levels for elements such as PFOA and PFOS,” the city stated. “Liberty Utilities understands the community’s concern regarding the compounds of PFOA and PFOS at local Air Force bases and the potential impact to public health. The city, along with Liberty Utilities joins the community in calling for remedial action from the government.”