The state of Maryland recently announced plans to test waters and sea life for PFAS contaminants near two military installations that have been known to use aqueous film-forming foam containing the carcinogens in routine fire training exercises. PFAS chemicals are known to be devastating to human health and the environment.
According to the Bay Journal, Lee Currey, director of the water and science administration for the state Department of the Environment, (MDE) said the agency intends to sample surface water and oyster tissue in the St. Mary’s River watershed for per– and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The testing will take place near the shores of the Webster Field Annex of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which is located on St. Inigoes Creek and the St. Mary’s River. Kathy Brohawn, chief of the MDE’s public health section, said the agency “tentatively” plans to test oysters at Hog Point.
Hog Point is located on the Patuxent River Naval Air Station at the point where the Patuxent River empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Engineering reports have documented widespread use of the carcinogens on the base since 1970.
The decision to test the waters and sea life comes after 300 concerned residents showed up for an open house the Navy held at the Lexington Park, Maryland Library on March 3rd. They were concerned with a test of a water sample I collected that showed a local waterway, St. Inigoes Creek, was contaminated with 1,894 parts per trillion of the carcinogens.
The water sample was collected in February, 2020 using a test kit provided by Freshwater Future, a firm located in Petoskey, Michigan. Freshwater Future’s PFAS testing program operates out of the University of Michigan Biological Station. The water was analyzed following the EPA method 537 Revision 1.1 for 14 perfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS.
Several states have acted to limit or ban the consumption of seafood taken from waters with PFAS levels lower than those found in St. Inigoes Creek. PFAS are a class of more than 6,000 chemicals that are threatening to human health.
Oysters in New Hampshire near the old Pease AFB contained 55,000 ppt of PFAS. Meanwhile, public health scientists around the world, including Dr. Phillippe Grandjean of Harvard University are warning the public, especially pregnant women, not to ingest more than 1 ppt daily of PFAS. Meanwhile, the EPA has issued a non-mandatory “advisory” of 70 ppt. in drinking water, while taking no measures regarding the consumption of PFAS in food.
By the mid-70’s Navy scientists were aware of the toxicity of the substances, although the command took no measures to protect human health or the environment. Nearly fifty years later, in response to questions about the contamination in St. Inigoes Creek, David Steckler, the remedial project manager who runs the environmental restoration program for NAS Patuxent River, said the Navy is ”extremely early in the process” of testing the sites for potential contamination. It's a lengthy process, he said.
Perhaps it will take the Navy another 50 years to clean up the mess.
The “forever chemicals,” as they are known, were allowed to leach into the groundwater and drain into the surface water
The “forever chemicals,” as they are known, were allowed to leach into the groundwater and drain into the surface water, contaminating St. Inigoes Creek, the St. Mary’s River, the Patuxent River, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Ira May, who oversees federal site cleanups for the Maryland Department of the Environment, suggested that contamination in the creek, if it exists, could have another source. The chemicals are often found in landfills, he noted, as well as in biosolids and at sites where civilian fire departments sprayed foam. The sample was collected about 2,000 feet from known uses of PFAS on the federal installation while the nearest civilian fire house is 4 miles away and the nearest landfill is 10 miles away.
A navy spokesman told the press there are two locations on Webster Field Annex where the chemicals were also released, including an area at the airfield where foam was sprayed and, as a precaution, the fire station on base would also be checked. A report by CH2M Hill dated July 1, 2018, however, documents widespread use of the PFAS-lade fire retardants across the base.
Until recent developments, Maryland has not been proactive in testing the waters near military installations across the state that have a long history of carelessly using deadly PFAS substances. Maryland’s Department of the Environment is aware of the use of carcinogens reported by the military at eight bases, although it has not publicly acknowledged additional contamination at numerous other installations in the state. Alarmingly, there have been no advisories issued regarding the consumption of seafood from highly contaminated waters, like there have been in other states. Women who may be pregnant must be warned not to consume seafood containing PFAS.
The Navy is responsible for much of the PFAS contamination in Maryland. The Naval Research Laboratory Chesapeake Beach Detachment, the US Naval Academy, the Patuxent River Naval Air Center and the Naval Surface Warfare Center are known to have contaminated the environment with these extraordinarily deadly chemicals.
Numerous studies have shown the major source of PFAS exposure in the general population is through the consumption of seafood. See, for instance, Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Fish Consumption Cross, et.al Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 2017.
Several states have acted to limit or ban the consumption of seafood taken from waters with PFAS levels much lower than those found in St. Inigoes Creek.
Pine Lake, New Jersey, near Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst had PFAS totaling 170.7 ppt with PFOS found at 102.0 ppt. The lake is impacted by the hydrologic connection with the military base, which has been identified as the source of PFAS due to its use of aqueous film-forming foam in routine fire-fighting exercises. The consumption of eel, largemouth bass, and pumpkinseed sunfish from Pine Lake is limited to once a year. New Jersey became the first state to issue advisories for the consumption of fish containing PFAS chemicals in 2018 and several states have followed suit.
PFOS levels in St. Inigoes Creek in Maryland were 9 times higher than the water in New Jersey, while overall levels of PFAS in the water in Maryland were 11 times higher.
In Lake Monoma, Wisconsin, near Truax Field Air National Guard Base, water is contaminated with 12 ppt of PFOS and 3 ppt of PFOA Authorities limit eating carp, pike, bass, and perch to one meal a month. The PFOS level in St. Inigoes Creek is 128.7 times greater than those found in Lake Monoma.
Surface water samples in Lake St. Clair, Michigan, very close to the Selfridge Air National Guard base were found to contain PFOS up to 610 ppt. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services immediately issued fish advisories for bluegill and sunfish as a result of the PFOS concentrations. PFOS level in St. Inigoes Creek were 2.5 times higher than the Michigan Lake
New York has established a fish advisory that warns people not to eat the fish taken from Washington Lake, Beaverdam Lake, Lockwood Basin, Moodna Creek, Recreation Pond, and Silver Stream. All are bodies of water close to Stewart ANG base.
The Pumpkinseed fish found in Recreation Pond had more than 3,000,000 ppt of PFOS, reflecting how PFAS bioaccumulates in fish.
Astronomical levels of PFOS in bodies of water adjacent to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana are the result of the use of AFFF on the base. Concentrations of PFOS exceeded 2 million ppt. in adjacent waters while PFOS levels were found in fish at 2.5 million ppt. Flag Lake, Flat River, Macks Bayou, South Coopers, and Weapon’s Bridge by the base are all heavily poisoned, although it is criminally negligent that there are no fish advisories in effect in Louisiana regarding fish contaminated with PFAS
While municipal water systems in Maryland and across the country have been hurriedly addressing PFAS contamination in drinking water by installing filter systems and other remedies, the primary route of exposure to PFAS is through the diet, namely seafood from contaminated water bodies. (Christenson et. al. 2017)
The Navy is misleading the public and downplaying health concerns associated with its continued use of PFAS, while the EPA is missing in action. The people of Maryland look to the Department of the Environment to test the waters and seafood to safeguard their health. There’s a lesson here for the rest of the country.