Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
PFAS are a large family of man-made chemicals which have been widely used in industrial and consumer products since the 1950s because of their unique water- and oil-repelling properties. They have been used in such products as carpeting, apparel, food packaging, and non-stick cookware to make them more stain-resistant, waterproof, and/or non-stick. Additionally, PFAS are key components in firefighting foam (specifically aqueous film forming foam or AFFF), which is used by fire departments across the country to fight fuel fires.
PFAS are very stable compounds, meaning they don’t break down easily and last a very long time in the environment. Once released to the environment, PFAS can move easily into and with groundwater. Exposure to PFAS in drinking water can occur if contaminated groundwater is used as a potable or drinking water source. Several PFAS are now of emerging health concern for the U.S. EPA and other environmental and public health agencies.
PFAS may be present in the soil and/or groundwater at Navy sites as a result of historical activities using firefighting foam, including responses to plane crashes, equipment testing, training, hangars where foam was used in the fire suppression system, and other operations such as plating shops where PFAS were used. The Department of Defense is currently studying fluorine-free firefighting foam alternatives to replace AFFF and prevent future PFAS release. In the interim, AFFF is no longer used in training on Navy installations and is limited to emergency response actions only.
Drinking Water Quality
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Lifetime Health Advisory for two PFAS, PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) in drinking water. EPA's health advisories are not regulatory requirements or standards, but are guidelines based on the agency’s assessment of the latest science. These guidelines are recommended drinking water concentrations, and are meant to provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, a margin of protection from adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure. The EPA Lifetime Health Advisory level for PFOS and PFOA is 70 parts per trillion (ppt), either separately or combined, in drinking water. The Lifetime Health Advisory was derived only for drinking water and is not intended for use in assessing the potential health effects resulting from exposures to soil, surface water or air.
A number of States have regulated the levels of certain PFAS allowed in drinking water, while the EPA works to develop national drinking water regulations.
The Navy developed a proactive policy in 2016 to identify, investigate, and address PFAS releases at installations nationwide. The priority for Navy PFAS investigations is to ensure people are not being exposed to PFOA and/or PFOS in their drinking water at concentrations exceeding the EPA’s lifetime health advisory as a result of a Navy PFAS release. When a known or suspected release of PFAS is identified on a Navy installation, a potential sampling area is established 1-mile in the direction the groundwater flows away from a release site (i.e. in the groundwater path). To ensure protectiveness, the Navy offers sampling to residents whose drinking water is supplied by private wells (i.e., not on public water) in these designated areas.
Bay Head Road Annex PFAS Investigation
A PFAS investigation has been underway for the former Bay Head Road Annex property since 2016. A former Burn Pad was identified as a PFAS release area because it was used historically for fire/ burn-testing operations involving use of AFFF in the fire suppression system. An additional release area was identified related to the former operations at the Burn Pad. The Evaporation Pond collected water that originated from the Former Burn Pad and released PFAS with water leaks which occurred through cracks in the concrete. Additionally, PFAS may have spread through regrading of PFAS-impacted soils during site redevelopment.
Protecting drinking water sources is the highest priority with the Navy’s PFAS policy. The potential impact to nearby drinking water wells was assessed early on in the former Bay Head Road Annex PFAS investigation. The former Bay Head Road Annex property and most neighboring properties receive their drinking water from the Anne Arundel County Public Water system which does not require sampling by the Navy as part of the PFAS investigation. The Arundel County public water is drawn from deep supply wells the closest of which is over a mile from the former Bay Head Road Annex property.
In 2016, the Navy conducted a drinking water investigation for private residential drinking water wells located in the shallow aquifer, in the direction that the groundwater flows near the former Bay Head Road Annex. PFAS were not detected in the private drinking water wells tested.
The November 2016 drinking water sampling was limited to shallow groundwater wells because information on the geology of the area underlying the former Bay Head Road Annex and surrounding communities, indicates the small number of private drinking water wells which are drilled into the deeper aquifer are not susceptible to contaminants originating at the land surface. The confining layers between the aquifers prevent water from moving from the surface into this deep water source. Therefore, for the few deep private drinking water wells in the area, permission to sample was not requested.
In addition to the early drinking water investigation, the Navy has conducted a robust environmental investigation for the former Bay Head Road Annex. Additional information on the investigation and findings is available on the Environmental page.
Exposure to PFAS appears to be global. Scientists are working to better understand how exposure to PFAS might affect people’s health. More research is needed to confirm or rule out possible links between exposure and health effects in people. Please visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) website and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website for more information on potential health effects related to PFAS exposure.
Make the blue highlights links to the EPA PFAS website and the ATSDR website links also included below under “For More Information”
- Based on limited evidence from human studies exposed to high levels of PFAS, potential health effects include:
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Elevated liver enzyme levels
- Altered hormone function (thyroid and pancreas)
- Immune system changes (vaccine response in children)
- Increased risk of testicular and kidney cancer
- Ulcerative colitis
- Changes in the developing fetus and child (including infant birth weights, and high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women)
These health effects can be caused by many different factors other than PFAS exposure (e.g. genetics and lifestyle). At this time, it is not possible to link exposures to PFAS to a person’s individual health issues. Blood tests are available to measure these chemicals, but they are not routinely done because the results can be inconclusive and test results do not predict health effects.
For More Information