NAS Environmental Investigation Draws a Packed Crowd

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (March 5, 2020)—For decades the U.S. Navy has used a special foam to extinguish fires on Patuxent River NAS; known as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF).

These foams contain a substance called per- and polyfluorolalkyl (PFAS) which the Navy says has been potentially released on 18 sites on base over the years; the Navy says that PFAS has become an "emerging public health concern."

The Navy is beginning an investigation into the possible release sites, particularly into PFAS levels in ground water.

A crowd of residents filled the main meeting room of the Lexington Park public library March 2, many demanding answers on how much PFAS has been introduced to the base environment and surrounding areas.

Some in the community have claimed that PFAS from naval activities has polluted nearby waterways, specifically St. Inigoes Creek.

The Webster Field Annex is located in St. Inigoes.

Patrick Gordon, public information officer for Pax River NAS, said the Navy is still unsure of all the affects PFAS could have, but said the testing done independently regarding St. Inigoes Creek could not be verified.

PFAS have also long been used in many consumer products such as cookware.

"While we appreciate concerns over PFAS, without knowing how and under what conditions this single sample tested at St. Inigoes was collected, it is impossible to comment on its veracity or accuracy," Gordon said in a statement before Tuesday night's meeting.

"What we're focusing on is the historic use of AFFF," Gordon told The County Times. "We're learning more about it [PFAS] every day."

At the meeting representatives of the Navy said that drinking water on base met all the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Also, between 2014 and 2017 all the drinking water systems on base were tested for PFAS and none of the compounds were detected in those tests, the Navy claimed.

The possible release sites for PFAS on base were determined by a preliminary study, the Navy stated, and full investigation of the sites will begin this spring.

One site on base aside from the 18 under consideration has been sampled for PFAS and it was detected in shallow groundwater, the Navy stated.

The PFAS concentrations range from none to 1,100 parts per trillion, according to the Navy. According to the Navy Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), which is overseeing the investigation, PFAS have no Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory standards or routine water quality testing requirements. The EPA continues to study PFAS to determine if regulation is needed, according to NAVFAC.

Dave Steckler, a hydrogeologist and remedial project manager for Patuxent River NAS, said testing will also be conducted at the Webster Field Annex.

"We've identified one site there that might contain the compounds," Steckler said. "It should be tested in either late spring or early summer."

Bob Lewis, executive director for the St. Mary's River Watershed Association, said he and others who attended the meeting wanted more information.

"A lot of people were disappointed… it seems they had little information about drift [of PFAS] off the site," Lewis said. "This is a big issue for us, about how PFAS could be affecting the crabs, fish and oysters."

Lewis said, though, that he believed "one the whole the quality of seafood was not compromised."

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