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EPA actions on PFAS chemicals could impact cleanup of Reese area contamination

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 5:08 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Environmental Protection Agency has released a PFAS Strategic Roadmap which outlines the actions it plans to take on “forever chemicals” that have been found in groundwater near the former Reese Air Force Base. Environmental activists who’ve called for more action by the agency say this could force a quicker cleanup of the area.

“It’s an important first step, for the communities that are living downwind or downstream of PFAS polluters or the thousands of communities that are drinking contaminated water,” Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, said.

In 2018 the Air Force announced that multiple water wells near Reese Center were found to be above the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory and TCEQ’s Protective Concentration Levels for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Those are from the aircraft firefighting foam used on the base.

“Most of these bases are in the earliest stages of the cleanup process,” Faber said. “If you’re living near one of these bases, and you’re relying on well water, you very well may be drinking contaminated water.”

The Air Force has since provided water filtration systems to affected residents who want them. Currently, it’s conducting an Affected Property Assessment Investigation by drilling water wells for monitoring purposes and to determine the extent of the contamination.

The EPA’s actions on the chemicals includes establishing a national primary drinking water regulation and proposing to designate certain PFAS as CERCLA hazardous substances.

“That will expedite, really accelerate the cleanup of these toxic plumes at [Department of Defense] installations,” Faber said. “There are about 400 bases across the country that are contaminated with PFAS because of the use of firefighting foam that was made with PFAS.”

As for the water regulation, which could come by 2023, Faber said it’s unknown if the DOD would be responsible for ensuring people living outside a base have water levels within that new standard.

“We certainly think that’s the case, that DOD has to meet the federal standard and as well as the state standard and make sure that people living near the base don’t have more than that amount of PFAS in their tap water,” Faber said.

The Air Force did not respond to KCBD’s request for comment on the new EPA plans. When the Air Force announced the field work investigation in 2020, it included the following in a news release:

Throughout these investigations AFCEC will continue to ensure residents have access to safe drinking water under the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory and TCEQ’s Protective Concentration Levels for PFAS.

For more in the Air Force’s response to PFAS, click here.

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