Fire Training Center Water Contamination

PFC Water Contamination Issue and City Response

Location and Background

City Response Timeline to Contamination: 5-yrRFTCresponse_WS (pdf)

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) were first discovered at the City of Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center (RFTC) in 2015 when the City of Fairbanks sampled standing water contained within the burn pit (see google map of training center on north side of 30th Avenue). In September 2015, Shannon & Wilson, Inc. (S&W) completed an investigation of soil and groundwater on the RFTC property and found PFCs and petroleum compounds in the groundwater on the site.

Figure 2

The burn pit is 30 feet in diameter and lined (Figure 2). Firefighting foam containing PFCs is suspected to have leaked through the liner or over-sprayed the edges of the pit during training activities until use ceased in 2004. The burn pit was constructed in 1984.

In August 2017 the City Engineering Department, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and S&W developed a scope of work for NRC Alaska, LLC to excavate the pit area. The work included removal of standing contaminated water and ~185 cu/yds of soil directly below, in an attempt to remediate the majority of the source PFC and petroleum contaminants at the RFTC property.

 After the initial discovery of the contaminants in 2015, the City and their consultant took immediate action to a) identify and test any domestic water wells down gradient of the RFTC and b) provide free delivery of a clean drinking water alternative for those residents’ with contaminated water samples.

 

Figure 3

Regulatory Health and Cleanup Levels

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a lifetime health advisory (LHA) level of 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L) for the sum of the PFOS and PFOA concentrations in drinking water sources. This new level is significantly lower resulting in an increased need for more widespread investigation of drinking water. While much is still unknown regarding clear linkages between accumulation of PFCs in humans and disease, the potential health impacts were enough to cause the City to take a cautious approach when setting levels for determining when to provide affected properties with a new water service. In summer of 2017 the City began to offer municipal water connections to properties with existing domestic drinking water wells (currently used as the primary domestic water source) whose sample results tested at, or above, 65 ng/L.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) published cleanup levels for two types of PFCs, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in groundwater in November 2016. The new groundwater-cleanup levels are described at http://dec.alaska.gov/spar/regulation_projects/cs18AAC75.htm.

What are PFCs?

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are “emerging contaminants,” or chemicals with limited data on human health effects. Two compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are the most studied. PFCs are used in products that resist fire, stains, grease, and water. While PFCs can be found in firefighting foam, they can also be present in furniture and carpets treated for stain resistance, waterproof clothing, and food packaging. Beginning in 2001, 3M and other major manufacturers of fire-fighting foams and consumer products containing PFC-related chemicals began to phase out the use of PFOA and PFOS in these products due to findings that these chemicals can be harmful.

PFCs that enter the environment are known to persist for a long time and may travel long distances in groundwater.

Current Investigations

Due to concern about PFCs in drinking water, the City of Fairbanks began searching for water supply wells (including drinking water wells) immediately after the discovery of PFCs in groundwater in August 2015 (see Response Timeline).
The search was expanded iteratively in the general direction of groundwater flow (northwest) between February 2016 and 2017, and extended to properties on both sides of the Chena River between Loftus Road and University Avenue. Based on the latest round of results, no properties north of the Chena River were found to have PFC level approaching or over the LHA.

The City of Fairbanks is currently providing water to affected residents, and has connected 20 affected properties to the municipal water system. The City is planning to connect an additional 20 homes and businesses to municipal water during the Fall 2017 construction season. These ‘high priority’ properties are those dependent upon wells for residential drinking water and have PFC contaminant samples exceeding the EPA’s LHA levels.

The City continues to conduct outreach to affected residents and held two Community Informational Meeting in fall 2016 and a third meeting in August 2017 with support from the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the DEC, and consultants.

Future Plans

The City of Fairbanks continues to work with property owners, ADEC and S&W to identify additional wells for testing and to install a monitoring well network to help us to better understand both the extent and annual fluctuations of contamination levels in the groundwater. As a result of no positive results from residential properties north of the Chena River, the City plans to focus future sampling on those wells with results between 35-65 ng/L and will continue sampling these on a bi-annual basis.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Jackson Fox, City Engineer, City of Fairbanks, Engineering Department, jfox@fairbanks.us or 907-459-6758.