More than 2,100 agricultural operations in 37 states have been notified they are within a mile “down gradient” from high levels of PFAS contamination at military bases.
The information on the so-called “forever chemicals” is included in a brief report that was submitted to Congress today. DoD, however, said in the report, “Providing these agricultural notifications does not necessarily mean that PFAS is in the groundwater at the agricultural location or that cleanup is required.”
The requirement was included in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires military installations to inform ag operations where “covered PFAS” have been detected in groundwater and the covered chemical “has been hydrologically linked to a local agricultural or drinking water source and is known or suspected to be the result of a PFAS release at a Military Installation or National Guard facility.”
The covered PFAS are defined as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) “that has been detected in groundwater above 70 parts per trillion (ppt), individually or in combination with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); and/or PFOA that has been detected in groundwater above 70 ppt, individually or in combination with PFOS; and/or perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS) that has been detected in groundwater above 40 parts per billion.”
EPA has set a health advisory level of 70 ppt for the sum of PFOA and PFAS. Neither EPA nor most states have set an enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS.
“There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans,” EPA says on a webpage about the chemicals. “If humans, or animals, ingest PFAS (by eating or drinking food or water that contain PFAS), the PFAS are absorbed and can accumulate in the body. PFAS stay in the human body for long periods of time.”
Although widespread damage to farms has not been documented, a dairy farmer in New Mexico is trying to get government compensation for the loss of cows because of PFAS contamination from the adjoining Cannon Air Force Base, which is not included in the report.
Another farmer, in Maine, has reported his cows have been contaminated with PFAS from land-applied sludge.
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A chart included with the report does not include specific testing results, but a range, which in some cases is quite large. Near Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas, for example, 41 ag operations were notified of PFOS levels of 72-550,000 parts per trillion, and PFOA levels between 120-140,000 ppt.
The largest number of ag operations notified is near Arnold AFB in Manchester, Tennessee, where 375 received letters. The highest level of PFOS found on the base was 159,000 ppt; for PFOA, the high level was 16,000 ppt. Tennessee does not have any water standards for PFAS.
In total, 2,143 operations were notified.
The highest level found was at the former England AFB in Shreveport, Louisiana, where a level of 7.15 million ppt of PFOS was detected. At the same base, testing detected PFOA as high as 3.82 million ppt. Two ag operations were notified of the contamination.
Near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, 114 ag operations got letters about contamination that reached as high as 260,000 ppt for PFOS and 23,000 ppt for PFOA. Near Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington, 108 operations were informed of contamination as high as 98,000 ppt for PFOS and 22,000 ppt for PFOA.
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