KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. – The 173rd Fighter Wing has partnered with local community experts and formed a working group to address the path forward after quantities of two emerging contaminants were found here.
“Our goal is to protect human health and ensure mission activities do not impact our communities’ access to safe drinking water,” said Col. Jeff Edwards, the 173rd Fighter Wing commander.
The presence of perflourinated compounds, specifically Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid, referred to as PFOS and PFOA, were detected at Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base. These two compounds are classified as emerging contaminants due to evolving regulatory standards.
“By partnering with our community, we can leverage the combined expertise of community leaders, other government agencies, and local colleges,” said Edwards. “Through collaboration with our partners, we can best assess the situation and develop a way forward.”
The Kingsley Field Working Group consists of multiple individuals from various community organizations including the City of Klamath Falls, Klamath County, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Klamath County Public Works, Klamath Irrigation District, and Oregon Institute of Technology. The group was initially formed in early August to explain the goals and establish who from each organization should be involved.
“Interagency partners across the Basin are taking due diligence in examining the issue to determine if community mitigation measures are required. The team is actively engaged with the process and our input is being well received,” said Gene Souza, District Manager for Klamath Irrigation District.
Using the expertise of each organization, the Kingsley Field Working Group is combining their knowledge and understanding of the water flows in Klamath County to establish where further testing should be conducted to determine if the contamination has spread beyond those sites tested as part of the initial site inspection.
“We are proud to call Klamath Falls our home and are very grateful for the tremendous community support for Kingsley Field,” said Edwards. “We are in this together, and we are committed to partnering with our community on the way forward.”
As part of the EPA’s monitoring of unregulated drinking water contaminants, samples were taken twice in 2014 at the well heads of the City of Klamath Falls water distribution system; PFOS and PFOA levels were not detected and the water was deemed safe. The drinking water on Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base is fed by the Klamath Falls city wells.
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, AFFF, 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. This is now a national-level issue that is affecting many bases and fire departments as the ramifications of the fire suppressant are coming to light. The Air Force discontinued use of C8 AFFF in 2016 and began using C6 AFFF.
The legacy C8 AFFF formula contains long-chain fluorosurfactants while the new formula contains shorter chain molecules. Data reviewed by the EPA in 2009 suggests these shorter-chain formulas are less toxic because the chemicals are cleared from the body faster and are not considered bioaccumulative or bio- persistent. The new C6 AFFF meets both military specifications for firefighting and the goals of the EPA’s 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program.
In 2009, the EPA issued provisional health advisories for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water. On May 19, 2016, the EPA established lifetime health advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion for combined concentrations of PFOS and PFOA.
The ANG is following the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act process to assess and inspect possible AFFF release sites to determine if there has been a release and to address the potential for PFOS and/or PFOA contamination of drinking water.
As part of the CERCLA process, a Preliminary Assessment was conducted at Kingsley Field in August 2015 which determined the need for a Site Inspection. The SI began in September 2017, in coordination with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality with the final report published in November 2018. This initial investigation determined that PFOS and PFOA compounds were present in preselected areas at concentrations above the EPA limit in the soil and groundwater. In response to these findings, a Remedial Investigation has been ordered with a date to be determined.
“This is a lengthy process as the EPA and we as a nation figure out what exactly needs to be done with these contaminants,” said Edwards. “That is why it is so important that we can partner with our local community to try and get ahead of this.”
As the process moves forward, a Restoration Advisory Board is scheduled to convene. A RAB provides the community with the opportunity to be involved in the environmental process at Kingsley Field ANG Base either as members or through attendance at public RAB meetings. Because installation decision makers and representatives of regulatory agencies participate in the RAB, it offers members and the public the opportunity to share their questions, concerns, and ideas with the agencies involved. Information on how to participate with the RAB will be provided once a schedule is developed.