What are PFOS and PFOA? Are they in our drinking water?

  • Published
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are a group of manmade chemicals used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes. These are also referred to as polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Here on MacDill AFB, you may have heard the term PFOS or PFOA.

PFC is the name given to the broad family of products, and PFOS and PFOA belong to that family. While there are dozens, if not hundreds products that fall within the PFC family, we will focus on PFOS and PFOA.

In 1970, the U.S. Air Force began using Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), to fight fires, and AFFF contains PFOS/ PFOA. AFFF is the most efficient extinguishing method for petroleum fires and is widely used across the firefighting industry, to include all commercial airports.

Unfortunately, PFOS and PFOA do not break down over time, and over the years, we have learned a lot.

In November 2015, the Department of Defense began acquiring AFFF that was more environmentally responsible to eliminate or reduce PFOS and PFOA from approved formulations.

In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency updated their Lifetime Health advisory. “To provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure to PFOA and PFOS from drinking water, EPA established the health advisory levels at 70 parts per trillion. This health advisory level offers a margin of protection for all Americans throughout their life from adverse health effects resulting from exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.”

Although PFOS/PFOA compounds are unregulated by the EPA, the Air Force has taking aggressive measures to reduce the risk of mission-related PFOS/PFOA contamination to drinking-water sources.

Specifically here on MacDill AFB, during a site survey completed in 2016, eight locations on base were identified as having higher than the recommended EPA levels. These locations represent areas where AFFF was stored, used in fire fighter training or to fight fires.

While MacDill AFB has a few locations with elevated numbers, the base’s drinking water is free from PFOS/PFOA.

MacDill AFB residents and employees receive their drinking water from the city of Tampa, and is managed by the Florida Gulf Utility Authority located near the end of the peninsula on the base.

Because of the great partnership between Tampa and MacDill, the Air Force has been able to focus on base communities around the country that consume their own ground water. Air Force officials are scheduled to visit MacDill AFB again in 2023 for remediation, but in the meantime, Air Force officials have surveyed the surrounding community.

Ground water on MacDill AFB moves in a radial motion from north to south, which reduces the likelihood PFOS/PFOA will ever reach any off-base population, but taking no chances, Air Force officials surveyed neighborhoods in and around MacDill AFB. They discovered that every resident near MacDill AFB also uses the very same city drinking water.

While MacDill AFB does have isolated areas with elevated levels of PFOS/PFOA, the base only uses water that is distributed from the city of Tampa.

The safety and health of our Airmen, their families, and our community partners are our top priority.

If you would like to know more about the drinking water on MacDill AFB, officials provide an annual drinking water report available on www.macdill.af.mil