this photo taken July 16, 2002, firefighting foam is
used in an attempt to extinguish a burning fuel tanker
truck on Interstate 90 in Issaquah, Wash. The accident
took place near one of several wells that supply
drinking water to the city of Issaquah. That well is
now contaminated and not in use, but the city says it
has not confirmed the source of the contamination. The
city will install a filtration system on the well by
the summer of 2016.
military is checking U.S. bases for potential groundwater
contamination from a toxic firefighting foam, but most
states so far show little inclination to examine civilian
sites for the same threat.
was likely used around the country at certain airports,
refineries and other sites where catastrophic petroleum
fires were a risk, but an Associated Press survey of
emergency management, environmental and health agencies in
all 50 states showed most haven't tracked its use and don't
even know whether it was used, where or when.
states — Alaska, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and
Wisconsin — are tracking the chemicals used in the foam
and spilled from other sources through ongoing water
monitoring or by looking for potentially contaminated sites.
states are beginning or planning to investigate the
chemicals — known as perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs —
which have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular
cancer, along with other illnesses. The rest of the states,
about two thirds, are waiting for the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency to make a move.
to the Aqueous Film Forming Foam used in disaster
preparedness training and in actual fires, PFCs are in many
household products and are used to manufacture Teflon.
about the chemicals' effects has been evolving, and the EPA
does not regulate them. The agency in 2009 issued guidance
on the level at which they are considered harmful to health,
but it was only an advisory — not a legally enforceable
said then that it was assessing the potential risk from
short-term exposure through drinking water. It later began
studying the health effects from a lifetime of exposure.
Those studies remain in progress, and the agency is also
considering whether to establish a firm limit on PFCs in
required large public drinking water systems and some
smaller ones to check for PFCs between 2013 and 2015.
results have not been released because data is still being
submitted, but officials in several states told the AP that
PFCs were found in their water systems during those checks.
Detections were reported by six Massachusetts public water
systems, for example.
about 4,800 water systems have submitted their findings to
the EPA. About 2 percent so far have reported measurable
levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or perfluorooctane
sulfonate (PFOS), or both, the agency told the AP on
None of the
PFOA levels were above the EPA's guidance, the agency said,
but 17 of the PFOS levels were.
public drinking water, there may be contamination elsewhere
that could affect private or other water supplies, including
from any use of the firefighting foam. The five states
forging ahead with wider tracking for PFCs are going well
beyond the EPA's minimum requirement.
are not acting point to the cost of the testing and say
nothing in federal law gives them the authority to require
water utilities and cities to do it routinely.
don't have the resources to go out beyond what's required by
the EPA at this point," said Mark Mayer, administrator
of the drinking water program for the environmental
department in South Dakota. "But we have been paying
attention to it because there have been issues in other
states could pinpoint situations where the foam had been
used. Utah's fire marshal said the fire service there uses
it sparingly and only on large flammable liquid fires, which
was also used at the state fire school in Delaware, but
isn't anymore, according to the state emergency management
Issaquah, Washington, a large amount of firefighting foam
was sprayed during a tanker fire in 2002 near a well that is
now contaminated, though the city said it has not confirmed
the source of the pollution. The city is installing a
filtration system to remove PFCs from the well water by this
states, though, said they have no way of knowing what
individual fire departments are using.
U.S. military officials told the AP they would check 664
sites where fire or crash training was conducted.
has so far identified one site with contaminated drinking
water and another with contaminated groundwater. The Army
says there are low levels of PFOA in two drinking water
Force says there are chemicals in drinking water exceeding
the EPA's guidance at three bases, including the former
Pease base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Air Force has
spent millions so far addressing the contamination there.
found recently in wells in Vermont, New York and New
Hampshire, near where a company making Teflon has plants.
Residents in Vermont raised concerns, and the state
responded by testing wells and looking for contamination
elsewhere, said Danika Frisbie, an official in the state
responding to some pressure to make sure we're being
thorough and planning ahead, and not waiting five to 10
years to see where else PFOA could be," she said.
"I think it's just a matter of time before all states
are dealing with this issue."
states that are beginning or planning to investigate the
chemicals are California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon,
South Carolina, Washington and Wyoming.
what the five states actively monitoring for PFCs are doing:
is reaching out to agencies and businesses that may have
used the foam and so far has found six sites with PFC
groundwater contamination, including a fire training center
in Fairbanks and at least two nearby private wells.
3M Co. invented PFOA. It began to phase it out in 2002 in
response to health concerns raised by the EPA, but wells
near the manufacturer's disposal sites were contaminated.
The state used money from a settlement agreement and consent
order with 3M to sample water statewide for PFCs.
officials say they're still monitoring groundwater and
evaluating clean-up options at the Duluth Air National Guard
Base and in the city of Bemidji after contamination was
discovered in 2008 from the foam.
officials say they're focused on the Federal Aviation
Administration's technical center near Atlantic City, where
PFCs have been found in groundwater and in low levels in
municipal wells near the center's fire training area. New
Jersey has investigated industrial sites where the chemicals
were used, too, and continues to do so.
is sampling water at sites where the chemicals were likely
used, including at a fire training academy in Pittsford. The
state said last week that the results at the academy showed
Department of Natural Resources has sampled the groundwater
at landfills for PFCs for the past eight years and plans to