A new report says the water at Ellsworth Air Force base is filled with cancer causing chemicals that can also lead to birth defects.
For the first time, the government is making public a list of military bases with contaminants in the water from a man-made chemical used in foam to put out fires on the base.
Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota is among the 126 bases, which according to the Pentagon, has water with potentially harmful levels of perfluorinated compounds or PFCs.
The compounds have been linked to cancers and developmental delays for fetuses and infants.
PFCs make items water or heat resistant and are found in everyday household, food and clothing items, even take-out food wrappers.
Military bases have stopped the practice of using the foam to put out aircraft fires and a new system is in development.
The contaminated groundwater at the boundary of Ellsworth Air Force base was first discovered in 2011 and a test in 2016 showed the PFCs were still well over safe levels.
In 2017, the Air Force installed monitoring wells to figure out the extent of the groundwater contamination on the base and the surrounding area.
In this latest report, 43 out of 46 samples from those monitoring wells on the base itself were found to have PFC levels well above EPA standards; some as much as 551,000 parts per trillion higher.
In the wells being monitored off base, ten out of 12 samples came back with higher PFC levels than acceptable with up to 33,900 parts per trillion higher than what's considered safe.
The Centers for Disease Control will be conducting a study next year on the potential long-term effects of exposure.
Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson is the former President of the South Dakota Schools of Mines. She was questioned by a New Hampshire Senator on Capitol Hill this week about the widespread problem while testifying on the Air Force budget.
"I just wanted to urge you to do everything you can to make sure that funding gets transferred as expeditiously as possible. We have 1,500 people who have been tested with elevated levels in the Portsmouth area who are anxious about their future and their children's future and I know there are many people throughout the Air Force and our other military installations that share that concern," Senator Jeanne Shaheen said.
"Senator we will work with you and HHS as well as CDC to make sure that study is done," Wilson said.
The Department of Defense says it has made safety changes at affected bases, including installing filters and providing bottled water to families living there.
KELOLAND News reached out to the Ellsworth Base and received the following statement.
Yes, we were aware of the impacted (not infected) wells.
PFC were detected at the former fire training area in 2011. The results were reported to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural
Resources (SDDENR). In February 2013, the SDDENR sent a letter directing the Air Force to delineate the extent of PFCs in soil and Groundwater. The Air Force awarded a contract in September 2013 to complete a Remedial Investigation for PFCs at Ellsworth. The Remedial Investigation is on-going.
In 2015 a Preliminary Assessment was conducted at Ellsworth, which looked at records to determine locations where AFFF was used. Twelve locations were identified at Ellsworth to proceed to a Site Inspection.
In May 2016 a private off-base well was identified and sampled for PFCs. PFCs were detected at concentrations exceeding the EPA's Health Advisory
Level. Two properties shared one well. Both properties were connected to an existing base operated potable waterline. The waterline has provided alternate water since the 1990s to other off-base residents affected by trichloroethene plume. The connection was complete in January 2017.
In 2015 a multi-base contract was award to conduct Site Inspections at Ellsworth AFB. The Site Inspection work consists of collecting soil and groundwater samples at the 12 location identified in the Preliminary Assessment to determine if a release to the environment has occurred. The Site Inspection field work started 18 April 2018 and is schedule to be completed 31 May 2018.
The Air Force is preparing a work plan to conduct a private well survey of properties south and southwest of Ellsworth. Private drinking water wells
identified will be sampled and if PFCs are detected at concentrations exceeding the EPA's Health Advisory Levels, the residents will be provide with an alternate drinking water source.
Ellsworth Air Force Base receives its drinking water from a water allotment to Pactola Reservoir. There are no drinking water wells on Ellsworth.
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