Groundwater contamination near Georgia air bases worries experts, residents

Groundwater near three air bases in Georgia is contaminated with toxic chemicals that are linked with cancer and other health problems, according to recent tests by the Air Force—and experts and nearby residents are worried about drinking water contamination.

The chemicals in the groundwater, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), are found in a variety of consumer products, such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant and water-repellent carpets and fabrics, and cleaning products, as well as in firefighting foams. They persist over time in the bodies of humans and animals.

The Georgia air bases, similar to bases in other parts of the country, used the foam for many years in training exercises and to put out fires when planes crashed, and sometimes the foam leaked out of storage tanks, according to a January 3, 2019 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Although there was extensive groundwater pollution found near the Georgia bases, the Air Force concluded that there was no immediate risk to human health through contaminated drinking water. Public water systems near the bases that were tested between 2013 and 2015 did not have measurable levels of contamination.

But Elsie Sunderland, associate professor of environmental science and engineering in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Journal-Constitution, “Just because it [the water] was tested and they said ‘below detection,’ doesn’t mean you know that you have no PFAS in your drinking water. The test was not sensitive enough to see the PFAS in the water at levels we might be concerned about.”

Read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article: Contaminated groundwater, a toxic legacy of George’s air bases

Learn more

Understanding how chemicals contaminate water (Harvard Chan School news)