WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The National Guard is putting a plan in place to test ground water at Barnes Regional Airport.
The testing will be done to determine if PFOS and PFOA chemicals are at high levels in the water and if the cause can be linked to a firefighting foam that was used from 1970 to 1987 at Barnes and other guard, naval and Air Force bases. Previous studies done by the city on the water found that water from certain wells had elevated levels of the chemicals and resulted in three wells being put offline.
“We’re going to have a kickoff meeting next week to start the process,” John Richardson, environmental coordinator for the guard, said. “We do a work plan, how many wells we are going to drill, what the strategy will be, then a field effort which will probably be done in the spring.”
Once the testing is done, Richardson said that the results should be back later in the spring. However, he was unsure of what steps would be next because the link to the foam and contamination has not yet been determined.
However, he said that if there is a link found, the city would probably be compensated in some way, but was unable to be more specific.
Barnes Airport is situated on top of the Barnes Aquifer, which is where the wells that have been shut down get their water from.
The firefighting foam, known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, is a commonly used fire suppression chemical compound used by armed forces to fight fires. However, studies such as one in 2012 that appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that AFFF produced from 1966 to 2002 had amounts of PFOS, PFOA and other chemicals that led to multiple groundwater contaminations after repeated use or spills of the product.
According to Richardson, this form of AFFF was housed and utilized on an unknown amount of occasions at Barnes between the years of 1970 to 1987, when he said it was discontinued.
“At this minute the air force has done a central contract to do a disposal of it and have a new supply sitting in a warehouse,” Richardson said.
However, Richardson said that the foam is still currently at Barnes, and although unlikely, it could be used.
“There is still a chance that if there is a fire that we could still use the old stuff,” he said.
Richardson was said that the new firefighting foam will not have PFOS and PFOA in it. This supply is currently in the hands of the air force Richardson said, and they are in charge of removing all of the AFFF that has the contaminants in it.
Richardson said that the air force’s plan is likely to incinerate the old foam in treatment plants and believed that their process would be safe and would not further release the chemicals into other water supplies.
The PFOS-based AFFF was initially created by multiple companies, but approximately 75 percent of it was made by 3M, according to the 2012 Environmental Science and Technology study.
According to a Fire Fighting Foam Coalition fact sheet on AFFF, PFOS in firefighting foam was used due to its ability to “provide AFFF with the required low surface tension…and positive spreading coefficient that enables film formation on top of lighter fuels…that gives AFFF its name and its effectiveness against flammable liquid fires.”
The chemical was used in the production of various stain guards, and can also be found in some paints and textiles, among other sources.
The EPA, who lowered the acceptable amount of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water from 600 parts per trillion to 70 parts per trillion in June, said that the compound has a potential to be linked to health issues.
“EPA’s health advisories are based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory animals (rats and mice) and were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).”
Westfield officials have repeatedly said on the record however, that there is no risk to Westfield residents related to the drinking water.