Contaminated Groundwater at Three Georgia Air Bases

Jan. 4, 2019

For decades, the United States Air Force used a toxic firefighting foam that contaminated water near bases

The United States Air Force used a toxic firefighting foam for decades that contaminated water near bases and exposed communities to chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, tests at Georgia’s air bases show environmental contamination of groundwater caused by the foam.

Experts and neighboring residents are questioning findings, claiming the military’s review was too narrow and failed to test any water off-base.

“Given that there are concentrations of these compounds on site, over time they’re going to move off of the site. That’s just common sense,” said Jamie DeWitt, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “No contaminant obeys property lines.”

The Air Force has acknowledged contaminating drinking water in communities close to its bases in more than a dozen other states.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County, Air Force Base in Houston County and Moody Air Force Base in Lowndes County used in firefighting foam in training exercises and to put out fire when planes crashed. The foam sometimes leaked out of its storage tanks.

Thousands of gallons of foam soaked into the ground or washed into creeks and wetlands, killing fish and risking those who use the affected waterways for fishing, swimming and boating.

The contamination is linked to a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was laid out in a series of report completed by the Air Force in 2018. In the reports, it was concluded that despite high levels of groundwater pollution there was no immediate risk to human health through the contamination of drinking water.

However, many were skeptical of this claim, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Especially in rural areas where people rely on wells for drinking and irrigation.

“Everything in this area depends on groundwater,” said John Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper in Lowndes County, to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m not saying that Moody necessarily did make enough contamination to be a problem, but I can’t tell from this report, and I don’t think it’s our responsibility to determine that they didn’t.”

The Air Force has said in a statement that its response is constrained by lack of regulation for PFAS chemicals.