The Navy held a second public meeting in Down East Carteret County Wednesday evening to explain a new round of drinking well water testing in areas near Marine Corp Outlying Landing Field Atlantic.
A handful of residents wandered around the gymnasium of Atlantic Elementary School asking questions and reading informational boards outlining the well water sampling program. Most of the people in the small coastal town of 550 people get their drinking water from wells drilled 30 to 200 feet in the ground. One property owner, Phillip Mason, has lived here for 57 years about a half mile from Atlantic Field. He had his private well tested in the first round of sampling and it failed…twice.
“I got my second report back and I just come to find out what the next step is. They pretty much told me… they’re going to investigate more and do more sampling and try to figure out where the source is coming from.”
Since dangerous compounds were detected in his well, the Navy has been providing bottled water for him and his wife to drink and cook with. Mason says it’s not much of an inconvenience.
“I’m a big boy, I can put that jug up on top of that machine every two, three or four days. When you go to the sink to fill your coffee pot up, you have to stop and think, nope, I got to go over in the corner to that machine. You know… it sounds worse than what it really is.”
The investigation was prompted by the possible use of a compound known as aqueous film forming foam in equipment testing, training, and firefighting activities at MCOFL Atlantic. In October, the Navy sent 600 letters to property owners to ask if they have drinking water wells and if they would allow it to be tested.
“Back in November, we tested 223 wells. Of those wells, there were 26 that had detections.”
Mike Barton is the Com-Strat Officer for Marine Corp Air Station Cherry Point. He says two drinking water wells had concentrations of compounds that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 parts per trillion.
“This investigation is a result of the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory which is not regulatory in any way so there’s no requirement to do anything but the Navy is just trying to get ahead of it. So their priority is just trying to identify anybody who is over that level set by the EPA and then we’re going to take immediate action for those and make sure they’re good. What happens down the road with other folks with detects (that) remains to be seen. It’s still too early in this investigation to know what will ultimately come out of it.”
The Navy is testing for specific substances known as perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, otherwise known as PFOA. Some aqueous film forming foams contain these compounds which can cause a number of adverse health effects. Sue Casteel is the Health Educator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in the region 4 office.
“If you’re exposed to a high enough level of these chemicals for a long enough time, you could actually see increases in cholesterol level, you may see some immune system changes, it may increase the risks of certain types of cancers in people.”
PFOS and PFOA compounds can also alter hormone function, decrease fertility in women, and prompt changes in growth and behavioral problems in children. Casteel says there are blood tests to detect these chemicals in your body, but there are limitations.
“The problem and challenge that we have with these materials is that even if you get your blood tested, we can’t tell you if or how it might affect your health.”
Firefighting foam isn’t the only way to be exposed to these compounds. PFOS and PFOA have also been used in household and industrial products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging and microwavable popcorn bags since the 1950s. Environmental Affairs Officer for Marine Corp Air Station Cherry Point George Radford says they’re still trying to determine how the chemicals ended up in drinking water wells in the town of Atlantic.
“The compounds are long lasting, when they get into the environment. So if they end up … from any usage, they end up on the ground, you get rainwater, and it trickles down through the soil and ultimately ends up in an underlying aquafer where it could be used for watering lawns, it could be used for drinking or whatever.”
Radford says there is no historical documentation that aqueous film forming foam was used, disposed of or stored at MCOLF Atlantic.
“Now that we’ve had two of our 223 that we sampled exceeded the Lifetime Health Advisory, the next steps will be trying to determine where it came from. Is it from Atlantic Field, is it from some other source that we don’t know about yet in the vicinity? But that’s what we’ll be working on, trying to find out where it came from.”
Until a permanent solution is in place, the Navy plans to provide bottled water to residents whose wells exceed the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory. If test results are at or below the health advisory level, no immediate action is required. Com-Strat Officer Mike Barton says they’re not advising people whether or not to drink from their wells.
“Well, we know there’s plenty more wells out there that weren’t tested. We’d like to test them all. We want to test everyone that will allow us to do. If you look at a big picture of the community around the base, if we could look at every parcel of property and see whether there’s detects or not, that will give us a very clear indication of if there’s a source maybe. Or maybe a plume or some type of pathway. So if we only have a few samples, it would be impossible to detect a pathway. The more samples we get, the better.”
The Navy is currently conducting the second round of well water sampling for residents in the designated area through March 1st. Testing takes less than an hour and a copy of the report will be given to the property owner. For more information, go to: https://www.navfac.navy.mil/products_and_services/ev/products_and_services/env_restoration/installation_map/navfac_atlantic/midlant/cherry_point/mcolf_atlantic_pfas.html