Air Force Completes PFOS/PFOA Site Inspection at Luke AFB and Gila Bend AFAF

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Air Force officials released the results of a site inspection conducted in Fall 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, Ariz., that assessed the potential for Perfluorooctane Sulfanate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid presence in ground and surface water stemming from past firefighting activities.

Drinking water on base at Luke and Gila Bend remains safe for human consumption.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center validated results of sampling of groundwater and surface water resulting in preliminary findings of  PFOS and PFOA levels at several sampled areas on Luke above the Environmental Protection Agency Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 parts per trillion. 

The EPA LHA standard is advisory only and pertains only to drinking water. The EPA has not established or mandated a nationwide enforceable standard for drinking water nor has it promulgated 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.

Because of detection above the EPA LHA advisory levels, an Expanded Site Inspection will begin immediately to determine if other areas have been impacted. The expanded inspection will involve requesting to survey privately owned wells within 1-mile down gradient of Luke. If PFOS/PFOA is detected 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.

No additional testing is required at Gila Bend AFAF because no presence was found in drinking water, groundwater or surface water samples.

“We will continue moving forward aggressively in our investigation,” said Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, 56th Fighter Wing commander. “Our goals are to protect human health, keep residents informed throughout the inspection and ensure safe drinking water.”

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 used by emergency fire response teams at commercial airports, the Air Force and other military services to combat petroleum-based fires.

PFOS and PFOA are synthetic fluorinated organic compounds used in many industrial and consumer products, and in foam used by commercial industries and the armed services to extinguish fuel fires. These chemicals have been used for many years to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. In 1970, the Air Force began using Aqueous Film Forming Foam, which contains PFOS and PFOA, 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 replaced legacy AFFF with a new, more environmentally responsible formula that contains no PFOS and only trace amounts of PFOA.

Luke replaced legacy AFFF in its fire vehicles in the summer of 2017 and all but one aircraft hangars with the replacement foam in the fall of 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 fall of 2016 with retrofitting occurring in summer 2017. There are no aircraft hangars at Gila Bend.

For more information on the Luke or Gila Bend PFOS/PFOA SI or expanded SI, contact Luke Public Affairs at 623-856-6011 or email 56fw.pa@us.af.mil. For more information on the Air Force response to PFOS/PFOA, please visit http://www.afcec.af.mil/WhatWeDo/Environment/Perfluorinated-Compounds/  or contact Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Public Affairs at 1-866-725-7617 or email afimsc.pa.workflow@us.af.mil.