Initial phase of Alpena PFOS/PFOA investigation complete, confirms drinking water meets EPA standard

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Andrew B Layton
  • Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center



Story by 1st Lt. Andrew B Layton

110th Attack Wing


ALPENA, Mich. – Private wells sampled last year by the Air Force around Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center do not exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Health Advisory for two contaminants of concern, Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfanate (PFOS).

Base commander Col. John Miner said sampling began out of an abundance of caution after an expanded site inspection indicated a potential for contamination from past firefighting activities to reach off-base drinking water supplies.

There were a total of 115 private wells sampled. Of those, 34 have been found to contain PFAS compounds under 15.57 parts per trillion, well below the EPA’s health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion. All of the wells tested comply with EPA standards.

“This was about our commitment to protecting human health from mission activities and being good neighbors,” Miner said.

The Air Force launched a comprehensive approach to identify, respond to, and prevent drinking water contamination after Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) — a firefighting agent used commercially and by the Department of Defense between 1970 and 2016 to extinguish fuel fires and protect people and property — was found to contain concentrations of PFOA and PFOS that threatened the EPA’s health advisory. AFFF is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum fires and is widely used across the firefighting industry, to include all commercial airports.

Alpena CRTC was one of 203 installations the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) identified as a potential AFFF-release location.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), working in conjunction with state and local health agencies, partnered with the Michigan Air National Guard to sample drinking water wells around the base, according to MDEQ spokeswoman Melanie Brown.

"We tested as a precaution, in order to determine if there was a need for any further environmental investigation,” said Brown.

Using site inspection data, AFCEC validated releases and fully mapped contamination, said AFCEC spokesman Mark Kincade. Although cleanup technologies for PFOS/PFOA are still forthcoming, Miner said the Air Force investigation provided the information necessary to continue to protect human health by preventing drinking water exposure until the actual levels of PFOS/PFOA could be verified.

The Air Force has switched to a new, more environmentally responsible AFFF formula that contains no PFOS and only traces amounts of PFOA. Alpena CRTC replaced legacy AFFF in its fire vehicles with the replacement foam in 2016. The base will also retrofit its fire vehicles with a system that prevents foam discharge during equipment testing.

The Air Force’s investigation work and mitigation actions were guided by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, applicable state laws, and the EPA’s drinking water health advisory. The Air Force is moving forward aggressively in accordance with the CERCLA process to identify, define and mitigate potential contamination resulting from Air Force mission activities at other installations, including Battle Creek Air National Guard Base and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, in Macomb County.