Groundwater Contamination Spreads off Eielson Air Force Base

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Ground water contamination at Eielson Air Force Base has spread off the facility.

A chemical thought to originate from firefighting foam used at the base prior to the year 2000, is being detected in groundwater wells in a nearby subdivision.

Perfluorinated or “P-FOSS” compounds have been detected in private wells in the Moose Creek neighborhood along the Richardson Highway near Eielson. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Contaminated Sites Program specialist Eric Breitenberger, says the DEC has received test results back on 57 Moose Creek area wells.

“Forty-six out of the 57 wells have tested at or above the public health advisory level for P-FOSS,” he said.

Breietnberger says results from additional wells tested have not come back yet. He estimates there could be as many as 150 drinking water wells in the Moose Creek area. Last month the Air Force announced groundwater testing showed some base wells to be contaminated in excess of the health advisory level, and raised concern about off-site migration. Eielson spokesman Lieutenant Elias Zani says that prompted the Air Force to offer Moose Creek residents well testing.

“And, you know, if they come back above the provisional health advisory level, we are providing bottled drinking water,” Zani said.

Lieutenant Zani says the Air Force is coordinating the response with state and federal agencies. Alaska Department of Health officer Sandrine Deglin says the human health risk is unclear as perfluorinated compounds are an emerging contaminant.

“A few studies have been done and they have been done on fairly large populations. And despite this, there is no convincing evidence that the chemical will cause any particular effect,” Deglin said. “That doesn’t mean that it is safe; it means that further research needs to be done.”

Deglin says the existing studies are not directly comparable to the situation in Moose Creek, as they are based on health effects on large populations with low level exposure to perfluorinated compounds through means other than drinking water.

“P-FOSS is present around us; in furniture, in carpet, all different products that we use pretty much on a daily basis,” she said. “So they exposure doses are very small and that’s why it’s so difficult to conduct the studies.”

Deglin says higher level exposure studies using animals have shown liver and hormonal effects. How broad the P-FOSS exposure is in the Eielson area hinges on ground water spread. The DEC’s Breitenberger says the drainage is generally northwest, away from populated areas.

“We don’t know how exactly far down gradient the contamination could extend, but the good news is that there are very few houses for quite a distance,” he said.

DEC representatives are joining Air Force officials at a public meeting at the Moose Creek Fire Department on Tuesday to talk about the groundwater contamination.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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