A March 2018 report by the United States Department of Defense shows test results of military sites in Anne Arundel County and other national and international locations to have man-made chemical contaminants in drinking water supplies that are believed to cause cancer, birth defects and other diseases.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the two contaminants, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are products of industrial processes and are known to bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife. They are extremely persistent in the environment and cannot be mitigated by standard city and county water treatment methods.
PFOS and PFOA are persistent and mobile in the atmosphere and in aqueous environments because of their chemical stability and low volatility (the chemical’s ability to go into a vapor phase). Although the chemicals have been around in industrial and home use products since the 1970s, the EPA refers to the chemicals as “emerging contaminants.”
In the DoD study, which was presented as a briefing to the House Armed Services Committee in March, four wells were tested in areas surrounding Fort Meade in 2017. While the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) level for PFOS/PFOA is 70 parts per trillion (ppt) in water, the wells tested have between 300 and 87,000 parts per trillion PFOS/PFOA. The locations of the wells tested were not listed in the report.
At a former United States weapons facility in Annapolis, drinking water supplies were also tested. In 54 out of 68 wells tested, concentrations of PFOS/PFOA were between 70 ppt (the upper limit of LHA) and 70,000 ppt, which is 1000 times the EPA lifetime limit levels.
Both the City of Annapolis and the Naval Academy pump drinking water from the Patapsco Aquifer.
Although Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis list man-made organic chemical contaminants including “synthetic and volatile organic chemicals which are byproducts of industrial processes and petroleum production and can also come from gas stations, urban stormwater runoff, and septic systems,” as an issue in groundwater, the City does not test for these contaminants.
Barry Zvimbleman, an environmental remediation specialist for over 30 years with a company in Naples Florida called Onion Equipment, works on installing treatment systems for water on military installations that have been found to that contain PFOS/POFA. Zvimbleman was not aware of the DoD report and has not worked on sites in Maryland. Zvimbleman said that the concentration of PFOS/PFOA in the Naval Academy, Fort Meade and Chesapeake Beach groundwater samples are extremely high and very concerning.
The problem, Zvimbleman said, is not only for those who are drinking from well-water; standard water treatment facilities do not remove PFOS/PFOA.
David Jarrell, the Director of Public Works for the City of Annapolis, oversees drinking water and water treatment for the city. Jarrell said that he had not received notification of the DoD report and was not familiar with the contaminants. According to Jarrell, the City gets its water from three different aquifers, one of which, the lower Patapsco, is the same aquifer as the Naval Academy, and that the Annapolis water treatment system is in compliance with EPA standards. (The EPA at this time has not designated PFOS/PFOA chemicals with a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) in drinking water and therefore there are no standards for the City or County to follow or to be forced to comply with in the case of these man-made contaminants.)
The County lists only three man-made contaminants in its water quality report for 2016: Ethylbenzene, Tetrachloroethylene, and Diphthalate. However, only 2 of 24 sites were tested. Anne Arundel County Program Manager for Water Operations Eddie Cope said that the county does not currently test for PFOS and PFOA and he was unaware of the DoD report.
The Naval Academy, which treats its own water independent of the City water treatment system, also did not address any volatile organic man-made chemicals in its testing. The Naval Academy 2016 water quality report can be found here.
Two other military facilities in Maryland tested above the EPA’s LHA limit. In Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County, 9 of 18 wells tested between 190 ppt and 241,110 ppt, far exceeding safe limits. In Silver Spring, 8 of 16 wells at the Former Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Detachment in White Oak tested above LHA limits.
PFOS/PFOA were developed in the 1970s and used in many industrial and consumer products to make the products resist heat, stains, water, and grease. Examples include Teflon cookware, waterproofing fabric, carpeting and coating on fast food wrappers. On military bases, the most common use is in firefighting foams at airfields and in other industrial processes. Zvimbleman said that the chemicals are sprayed to put out fires and then washed off with water into the environment, sometimes stored in leaky containers, or even dumped into the environment.
According to the DoD report, limited human studies show PFOS and PFOA may be associated with developmental delays in fetuses and children, decreased fertility, increased cholesterol, changes to the immune system, increased uric acid levels, changes in liver enzymes, as well as prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers.
The EPA reports that the compounds are readily absorbed after oral exposure and accumulate primarily in the blood serum, kidney, and liver. Toxicological studies on animals indicate potential developmental, reproductive and systemic effects. Potential exposure pathways include ingestion of food and water, use of consumer products, or inhalation of PFOS/PFOA-containing particulate matter (e.g., soils and dust).
In 2015 studies, the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found PFOS and PFOA in the blood samples of the general human population and wildlife, indicating that exposure to the chemicals is widespread. Reported data indicate that blood serum concentrations of PFOS and PFOA are higher in workers and individuals living near facilities that use or produce PFOS/PFOA than for the general population.
The chemical company 3M was the primary manufacturer of PFOS. 3M began a voluntary phase-out of production in 2000 following the release of studies that showed a significant accumulation in the environment. By 2006, eight other companies followed suit and agreed to end production and use of PFOS and PFOA, but the chemicals were still in use as of 2015.
According to the EPA, there is no way to treat groundwater contaminated with PFOS and PFOA in situ. After removal, the contaminated water is resistant to most chemical and microbial conventional treatment technologies.
The most common water treatment method for PFOS/PFOA is extraction and filtration through granular activated carbon filters and ion exchange resins, according to Zvimbleman, who says a typical home costs $3000 for a filtration system.
The City of Annapolis water treatment process does not use either of these methods because of cost, and PFOS/PFOA are not regulated by the EPA, so costly carbon filter or ion exchange technology was not implemented when the water treatment facility was upgraded last year, according to Jarrell. The county also does not use carbon filter or ion exchange technologies in water treatment.
The DoD report said that the EPA has so far failed to address a Maximum Contaminant Level for PFOS/PFOA (MCL) which is the highest level of a contaminant allowed in drinking water. The Lifetime Health Advisories for PFOS and PFOA concentrations at 70 ppt are non-enforceable and non-regulatory. They serve only to provide technical information to state agencies and other public health officials.
However, the EPA gives stringent guidelines for action upon discovering PFOA/PFOS in concentrations greater than 70 ppt in drinking water analyses. According to the EPA’s fact sheet on the toxins:
- Water systems should quickly undertake additional sampling to assess the level, scope and localized source of contamination to inform next steps.
- If water sampling results confirm that drinking water contains PFOA and PFOS at individual or combined concentrations greater than 70 parts per trillion, then water systems should promptly notify their State drinking water safety agency (or with EPA in jurisdictions for which EPA is the primary drinking water safety agency) and consult with the relevant agency on the best approach to conduct additional sampling.
- Drinking water systems and public health officials should also promptly provide consumers with information about the levels of PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water. This notice should include specific information on the risks to fetuses during pregnancy, and to breastfed and formula-fed infants from exposure to drinking water with an individual or combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS above EPA’s health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
- In addition, the notification should include actions being taken and identify options that consumers may consider to reduce risk, such as seeking an alternative drinking water source, or in the case of parents of formula-fed infants, using formula that does not require adding water.
The DoD study tested 2,668 groundwater wells on military installations and found 1,621 to be above safe levels of PFOA and PFOS. The DoD also tested 2,445 public and private drinking water systems adjacent to military bases with 564 drinking water systems testing above the EPA LHA maximum.
“DoD’s priority is to address PFOS/PFOA to protect personnel living and working on our installations and the surrounding communities that we have impacted.”- DoD Report
The Arundel Patriot has reached out to the following for comment but has not heard back by press time:
- The Naval Academy Drinking Water Program Manager Steve Tushek
- Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety & Occupational Health) and Author of the March 2018 report.
- Anthony Brown, Congressman Maryland District 4 and a minority member of the House Armed Services Committee. (Brown Congressional aids sent an email on Monday saying they would have a comment but the Arundel Patriot has not been given a comment at press time. We will update this article when we receive comments from Congressman Brown).
City of Annapolis Drinking Water Report (2016)
Anne Arundel County Drinking Water Report (2016)
Naval Support Activity Annapolis Annapolis, Maryland 2016 WATER QUALITY REPORT
Other states with locations on military bases and/or off-base that show very high concentrations of PFOS/PFOA in the DoD report include:
California, Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Texas, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisana, Mississippi, Washington, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Deleware, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Arizona, Arkansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.
Carmen Skarulpka contributed to this report.
Vicky Bruce is the editor and co-founder of The Arundel Patriot. She is a science journalist and investigative reporter with a Master’s degree in Geology and Geochemistry. She is an author and filmmaker and lives in Anne Arundel County. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is a correction from the previous article which cited the U.S. Naval Academy as the location of the Annapolis contaminated wells tested by the DoD. According to Ed Zeigler, spokesperson for the U.S. Navy, the location is in Annapolis near the Woods Landing development in the St. Margarets area which was a former Naval Weapons Facility. Drinking water was not tested at the U.S. Naval Academy for PFOS/PFOA as part of the DoD report. The Academy is approximately 7 miles from Woods Landing, by the Department of Defense.
The Arundel Patriot is continuing to follow this story and will update with developments on precise well locations and further testing.
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