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Assessing the Risks of PFC Contamination on a Military Base

Researchers at Battelle are working with the U.S. Navy on a closed base to assess the level of PFC contamination and characterize the associated levels of human health and ecological risks. The study will be used to help the Navy select appropriate remediation efforts.

PFCs, or perfluorinated compounds, are a commonly used ingredient in firefighting foams and in metal plating. The base being studied was previously used by the Navy as an aviation research and flight training center, and associated firefighting exercises resulted in heavy contamination of the site with the PFC-laden foams. After closure, the majority of the base was turned over to the public for development. The surrounding area now includes residential and commercial areas, parks, and a senior living center. The Navy came to Battelle for help in determining whether remaining PFCs presented a risk to people living and working in the area or to local wildlife.

Battelle has been working with the Navy in various capacities at the site since 2001, and has already completed work related to site characterization, groundwater monitoring and optimization of an existing groundwater treatment system for other kinds of contaminants. PFCs were identified as a potential problem in 2011, when new analytical methods became available and the EPA began monitoring them as contaminants of concern. Elevated levels of PFCs were found in downgradient municipal production wells and traced to the closed base as the likely source of contamination. The new study builds on Battelle’s prior work at the base but focuses specifically on PFCs.

Starting in the summer of 2016, Battelle researchers will collect samples of soil, surface water, sediment and groundwater to map the extent of PFC contamination on and around the base. Monitoring wells will be constructed to assist with delineation and long-term monitoring of PFC levels. Using this data, researchers will then perform a risk assessment to quantify the human and ecological risks associated with the levels of exposure within the PFC-impacted area.

The human health risk assessment looks at the pathways by which PFCs enter the body (e.g. inhalation, dermal or ingestion) and how they interact with body systems. It will provide an overall estimate of human risk as well as risks for specific populations such as children, pregnant women or the elderly and for specific scenarios such as wading in a contaminated stream, living in a nearby house or working near a contaminated site for eight hours per day. The ecological risk assessment will look at the ecological implications and trace the fate of PFCs as they move through the environment and through the food web.

The risk assessment will be used to make recommendations for remediation. Risk quantification allows the Navy to prioritize remedial efforts towards the areas where they will have the greatest impact for people and the environment. The work is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2017. Once data collection and risk assessment is complete, the Navy can move on to feasibility studies for remedy selection.

The work completed at this site will be used to help the Navy develop protocols for PFC monitoring and remediation that will be implemented at other Navy sites. The Navy has collaborated closely with EPA on the PFC investigation and recently received an EPA OSWER award for their work on PFCs, due in part to Battelle’s research. This study is an important next step in further developing remediation protocols that minimize PFC risks for humans and the environment.