What is PFOS/PFOA, and how does the Army use it?
Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are two of the most widely used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in industrial and consumer products since the 1940s due to their resistance to heat, stains, water and grease. In addition to household items such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, clothing, shoes, furniture and carpets, PFAS are commonly used in firefighting foams and are especially effective at extinguishing fuel fires. Since the 1970s, the Army has used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) for fuel firefighting purposes; this historic use of AFFF was the primary mechanism for release of PFAS on Army installations. However, the Army has ceased the use of AFFF containing PFOS/PFOA except for emergencies, and is collaborating with the Navy and the rest of the Department of Defense (DoD) in its assessments of substitutes.
What are health advisory levels?
Health advisory (HA) levels identify the concentration of a contaminant in drinking water at and below which adverse health effects are not anticipated to occur over specific exposure durations (e.g., 1 day, 10 days, a lifetime). HA levels serve as informal technical guidance to assist federal, state, and local officials, and managers of public or community water systems in protecting public health when emergency spills or other releases occur. An HA provides information on the environmental properties, health effects, analytical methodology, and treatment technologies for removing drinking water contaminants.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is a federal law designed to protect the quality of drinking water supplied to the American public. In 2016, the EPA issued SDWA lifetime HA levels for PFOS/PFOA in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The HA is an advisory – not an enforceable regulatory standard – that represents a concentration in drinking water that is not expected to produce adverse health effects if the water is consumed over a lifetime.
Does PFOS/PFOA impact human health?
Scientists are still studying the health effects of exposure to PFAS. Due to their ability to build up in the body, even small amounts consumed over a lifetime may result in measurable levels in people. Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that certain PFAS may affect human health. People should contact their healthcare providers if they have concerns with PFAS exposure and possible health effects.
What are some different terminology being used to describe PFOS/PFOA? What are the more commonly studied PFAS?
Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of hundreds of human-made chemicals. The two best known groups of this family of chemicals are the perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs), which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and the perfluorosulfonates (PFSAs), which include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFOS/PFOA may also be referred to as Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs).
Some PFAS checmials have been studied more than the others: PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), PFHxS (perfluorohexane sulfonate), PFOSA (perfluorooctane sulfonamide), PFNA (perfluorononanoate), PFDeA (perfluorodecanoate), Et-PFOSA-AcOH 2 [(N-ethyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetate], and Me-PFOSA-AcOH 2 [(N-methyl-perfluorooctane sulfonamido) acetate]. Scientists know the most about PFOS/PFOA; less is known about the other PFAS.
What does part per trillion (ppt) in drinking water mean in simple terms?
For context, 1 ppt is equivalent to:
• 1 inch in 16 million miles (600+ times around the earth)
• 1 cent in $10 billion
• 1 second in 320 centuries
How do I know if my family or I am drinking water with levels of PFOS/PFOA above the HA?
There are currently no Army personnel or families drinking water on Army installations with levels of PFOS/PFOA above the HA. The Army proactively tests its drinking water systems and coordinates with other purveyors of drinking water to installations to ensure PFOS/PFOA remains below the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory (HA) level of 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA (individually or combined). In accordance with DoD policy and EPA recommendations, the Army provides alternate water to consumers at locations with detections above the EPA HA until detected levels fall below the HA.
Since the historic use of AFFF was the primary mechanism for release of PFAS on Army installations, is the Army still using it?
The Army no longer uses AFFF for testing, training or maintenance; it is restricted to use during fire emergencies and the foam is contained to minimize releases into the environment. The Army is actively collaborating with the Navy and DoD to find AFFF substitutes, and will replace AFFF in first-responder vehicles and firefighting systems with AFFF substitutes that do not contain PFAS when available.
How is the Army cleaning up PFAS?
The Army follows the federal cleanup law, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Army works closely with appropriate state or federal regulators where the Army has identified potential areas of concern where PFAS were potentially released into the environment. The Army assesses if past activities may have resulted in a release, assesses the potential for human exposure, and takes action to protect human health and the environment as necessary. Further CERCLA actions are prioritized and sequenced based on risk, with higher-risk sites being addressed before lower-risk sites.
The Army regularly reports an inventory of those sites undergoing PFAS investigations, and a map of the locations can be found at https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/pfas/ in the Resources section.
The total number of Army installations may continue to change, as assessments are still ongoing. The identification of installations reflects the Army’s vigorous and diligent examination efforts, and our dedication to ensuring the safety of our Soldiers, families and surrounding communities.