By Pat Elder, World BEYOND War, August 8, 2019
Air Force officials write in a prepared statement that PFAS has been found in “trace amounts” in groundwater, but documents show contamination exceeding a whopping 276,000 ppt for the carcinogens, making Robins one of the most contaminated places in the country.
A news story on WGXA TV, a Fox affiliate in Macon, Georgia provides insight into how the military is managing to cover up the extent and the severity of per and poly fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in Georgia and across the country. The chemicals are used in a variety of routine applications on military bases.
It’s tough to tell if WGXA initially contacted the folks at Robins Air Force Base or if it happened the other way around. The lines between many for-profit news outlets and public information officers at nearby military installations have become blurred in recent years.
The segment, “Is the drinking water at Robins Air Force Base safe?” aired on July 31, 2019. The answer to that question, according to the Fox affiliate, is a resounding “Yes,” although there’s more to this story. Stay with me for 2,500 words for an analysis of U.S. government propaganda aimed at covering up the widespread lethal contamination of Georgia, the U.S., and the world.
WGXA informs the public that PFAS contamination “is turning up in water sources across the country, but when it comes to studying and containing toxic PFAS chemicals, many states are still blind to the issue.”
These contaminants are not suddenly “turning up” in water sources. They’ve been contaminating the environment since the stuff was discovered in 1938. No state – even one as reckless as Georgia in these matters – is blind to the issue, although the Pentagon wants us to believe PFAS contamination is something new.
Georgia is not required by the EPA to regulate PFAS, so it doesn’t.
All states and all water utilities across the country have been aware of the contamination for years, but they’ve not been required to do anything about it because the federal government, under the pathetic and criminal administration of the EPA has refused to set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for the substances. Instead, the EPA has issued a “health advisory,” a non-enforceable and non-regulatory measure that provides technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on the health effects of certain substances.
The military has known of the negative health effects of per and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at least since 1974, while DuPont researchers knew in the 60’s the chemicals could increase liver size in laboratory animals. The Pentagon and the chemical industry have been poisoning Americans with PFAS for two generations.
The EPA has not acted to protect our health because it is caught between a formidable rock (public health) and a very hard place (the Pentagon). Creating an MCL and requiring the Pentagon to adhere to the constraints of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, would entail tens of billions of dollars of liability for the military and much more if we add all of the contaminated foreign bases and their surrounding communities. Consequently, the EPA has been allowed by Congress to do next to nothing to protect humanity from more than 5,000 varieties of harmful PFAS. Americans are eating, breathing, and drinking PFAS, an extraordinarily deadly substance.
The WGXA report from Macon, Georgia leads viewers to believe that PFAS has caught everyone off guard. Halfway through the piece, the Fox affiliate mentions Robins Air Force Base, about 20 miles south of Macon, near the town of Warner Robins. “WGXA News reached out to Robins Air Force Base, since Robins AFB is on the PFAS contamination map. Base officials declined to interview, but wrote, ‘the drinking water at Robins AFB is safe,’ and sent us this response.”
Military public information officials only speak on these matters from prepared texts and they don’t play ball with real journalists. Instead, the Air Force prepares carefully crafted 668-word propaganda pieces, like the one fed to the Warner Robins community. We’ll look at it closely.
Air Force comments are in italics, followed by responses to the flagrant disinformation.
Robins AFB – “The drinking water at Robins Air Force Base is safe. The safety and health of our Airmen, their families, and our community partners are our priority. We are members of communities where we serve and share concerns about potential PFOS/PFOA contamination. The Air Force is moving aggressively to protect drinking water supplies connected to and affected by our installations.”
Although this sounds genuine, it is boiler-plate language used across the country directed at hapless communities where developing fetuses have little chance of entering the world without these poisons in their bodies. Although water drawn from the deepest aquifers may be safe for drinking, there are many ways these pollutants enter the human body. The Air Force is only moving aggressively to defend its continued use of the carcinogens and to resist numerous court cases by claiming the federal government enjoys “sovereign immunity” from such civil actions.
The Air Force doesn’t want the folks in Warner Robins, Georgia, or anywhere, for that matter, to connect the dots between PFAS contamination and a host of common ailments suffered by children:
- Severe asthma
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Decreased antibody levels triggered by vaccines
- Altered immune-related health effects in early childhood
- Fewer antibodies against rubella in vaccinated children
- The number of common colds in children
- Gastroenteritis in children
- An increased number of respiratory tract infections in children
Robins AFB – “PFOS and PFOA are part of a family of synthetic fluorinated chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes, including a firefighting foam called Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). AFFF has been widely used by both commercial and military airports to extinguish petroleum fires throughout the United States. In 1970, The Air Force began using AFFF to extinguish petroleum fires, such as those associated with burning aircraft, to protect people and property.”
Throughout this calculated, nationwide misinformation campaign, the military has described its use of PFAS in terms of doing what’s best to protect human health. From the military’s perspective, PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam extinguishes a fire better than anything ever developed. With some aircraft, like the F-35, costing more than $100 million, putting fires out in a hurry is a of paramount importance.
Another propagandistic thread is apparent. Here, the Air Force points out that AFFF has been widely used by both commercial and military airports to extinguish petroleum fires. Apparently, the Pentagon takes a degree of comfort in having criminal co-defendants. The response from Robins Air Force Base doesn’t mention that Congress required commercial airports, until last year, to use the carcinogenic PFAS foam. It’s a testament to the power of the chemical industry in Congress.
Robins AFB – “A 2018 Defense Department report revealed trace amounts of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in three of Robins’ five shallow groundwater wells on the nearly 7,000-acre installation. These surface groundwater wells are not associated with the base’s deep aquifer drinking water source.”
The 2018 report released by the Air Force shows that Fire Protection Training Area 4 at Robins Air Force Base was recently found to have 250,000 ppt of PFOS and 41,000 ppt of PFOA in the groundwater. This is hardly a trace; instead it is akin to a sledgehammer of carcinogens and it represents one of the most severely polluted places on earth.
1 ug/l (microgram per liter) = 1,000 ppt (parts per trillion). Unenforced federal guidelines say .07 ug/l or 70 ppt. is dangerous to human health, although several states have enacted much more stringent maximum contaminant levels.
Source – Final Site Inspections Report of Fire Fighting Foam Usage at Robins Air Force Base Houston County, Georgia, June 2018, Submitted to: Air Force Civil Engineer Center 3515 General McMullen Suite 155 San Antonio, Texas 78226-2018. The Air Force no longer creates separate URL’s for these reports.
Harvard health officials say .001 ug/l or 1 ppt in drinking water is potentially harmful to human health, while this lovely part of Georgia has hundreds of thousands of parts per trillion of PFOS and PFOA in the groundwater.
Many of the discharges of the lethal foam were sent from the Air Force base directly into Horse Creek which empties into the Ocmulgee River. The environment has been profoundly impacted, although the state has apparently not taken steps to warn the public regarding potentially contaminated fish or agricultural produce.
To provide a sense of the world-wide emergency posed by these chemicals, areas in Germany with much lower levels of PFAS contamination have removed agricultural products like strawberries and asparagus from markets because of their propensity to draw in carcinogenic PFAS. In other areas of Germany fishing has been banned in creeks and rivers because of the contamination near U.S. bases.
Horse Creek is shown here, running adjacent to the runway and fire training areas at Robins AFB, Georgia. Heavily contaminated Horse Creek flows into the Ocmulgee River. This is where cancer starts in Warner Robins, Georgia.
Robins AFB – “Although PFOS/PFOA are unregulated, emerging contaminants, and Georgia or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have not established enforceable standards, Robins began taking steps in 2016 to replace all AFFF with a more environmentally responsible firefighting product.”
The way this reads, the Air Force is going above and beyond the call of duty to protect public health. Imagine how this plays out to the uninitiated. Folks must think the EPA doesn’t see this stuff as a threat and doesn’t regulate it so it’s laudable that the Air Force is going the extra step just to make sure we’re all safe. And isn’t it a relief to know that they’ll be using a more environmentally responsible firefighting product!
This is another reprehensible distortion of the truth. They say the devil is in the details. Read this report, full of devilish details, by Sharon Lerner of the Intercept: The U.S. Military is Spending Millions to Replace Toxic Firefighting Foams with Toxic Firefighting Foams.
Robins AFB – “The Air Force has retrofitted emergency response vehicles with a nozzle to prevent unintended discharge of the new safer foam. Robins AFB has replaced the old foam in hangar suppression systems. As a further precaution, base firefighters have implemented procedures for use of the new safer foam, treating any uncontained releases as if it were a hazardous-material spill requiring immediate cleanup.”
They’re depositing thousands of gallons of carcinogens into the environment. The “uncontained releases” they’re referring to often find pathways to our bodies. 99% of all Americans have these carcinogens in their blood. The human body has no way to defend against these cancer-causing “forever chemicals,” while the carcinogens accumulate over time. To say, “treating any uncontained releases as if it were a hazardous-material spill requiring immediate cleanup,” is reprehensible. The replacement foams are poisonous, and they shouldn’t be used. In fact, the substitute “GenX” chemicals, used as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, are known to travel even more quickly in underground plumes.
Non-carcinogenic, fluorine-free fire-fighting foams are commonly used around the world, but the Pentagon sees the continued use of PFAS as “mission critical.”
Robins AFB – “In 2009, the EPA issued provisional health advisories for PFOS/PFOA in drinking water. On May 19, 2016, the EPA established a lifetime health advisory (LHA) level of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and/or PFOA in drinking water. As stated before, the drinking water at Robins AFB is safe. The installation gets its drinking water from the Blufftown aquifer, which is one of the safest, purest and most reliable sources of high-quality water in the entire state. The aquifer is 300 feet below the surface and is protected by a natural layer of clay and sediment, which filters and protects the water source.”
Here, the Air Force is alluding to its severe contamination of the surficial aquifer (surface water) while stating that drinking water on base is derived from a lower, protected subterranean stream. There’s no mention that these chemicals never break down in nature and will be affecting living organisms for thousands of years. There’s nothing here about the contamination of surface water or sanitary sewer systems. More specifically, the Air Force fails to mention that AFFF-contaminated wastewater treatment plant sludge is disposed of at the Houston County Landfill in Kathleen, Georgia. The scripted response also omits a discussion of the burial of PFAS – contaminated solidified sludge blocks from the base’s sludge lagoon being placed in Landfill 4 and covered with polyethylene. The Air Force says the total quantity of AFFF-laden sludge produced at the base is unknown.
Carcinogenic sludge from the wastewater treatment plant at Robins AFB is buried in Landfill 4, the area just south of the forested buffer.
Robins AFB – “The Air Force conducted a thorough Site Inspection at Robins AFB that showed no risk to drinking water supplies, either on or off base. The Site Inspection results showed no drinking water impacts at Robins AFB, and indicated there was not a probability, pathway or proximity to off-base drinking water supplies. We will continue to monitor shallow groundwater areas across the installation to ensure safe drinking water for our Airmen, their families and surrounding communities. We will continue to ensure Robins AFB cares for one of the purist water aquifers in the state of Georgia.’
There is no public record suggesting the Air Force has tested private wells to determine the extent of the poisonous plume and to warn residents not to drink the potentially tainted water. Contaminated plumes may run for miles. There’s no mention in the Air Force statement of the findings in the 2018 final site inspections report regarding the contamination of Horse Creek or the Ocmulgee River. And they left out the release or more than 20,000 gallons of fire-fighting foam in 2007 directly into wetlands north of the base, causing a documented fish kill in Echeconnee Creek. These “forever chemicals” are still present in the environment.
Robins AFB – “The Air Force is committed to protecting human health and the environment and handling our response actions to PFOS/PFOA in a transparent manner with our community partners and stakeholders. As we have stated before, a Site Inspection conducted at Robins AFB show no risk to human drinking water supplies on or off base and the results indicated no probability, pathway or proximity to off-base drinking water supplies. We will continue caring for one of the purist water aquifers in the state of Georgia. We will continue protecting the drinking water at Robins AFB and evaluate shallow groundwater areas for further action if needed.”
How can the Air Force honestly claim, in an article that says they declined to be interviewed, that they are handling their response actions to PFOS/PFOA in a transparent manner? Although the Air Force makes the point five times that drinking water from the deeper aquifer is safe, this is only one of several pathways to human ingestion.
Robins AFB – “PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water is an urgent national issue because of the uncertainty of the impacts on our health and environment. The issue requires a whole of government response to evaluate and determine solutions for health effects and the risk management of PFOS/PFOA in our nation’s products. The Air Force is proud to be a leader in the response to PFOS/PFOA contamination of drinking water, and will continue to work with our neighbors, regulators and elected officials to protect human health and our environment.”
There is little uncertainty regarding the health effects of PFAS, particularly the most lethal variants, Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) which are found in abundance in the Warner Robins region. Studies have linked PFAS chemicals to testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer. They’re killers and the Air Force has known it for two generations. When the Air Force writes that the issue, “requires a whole of government response to evaluate and determine solutions for health effects and the risk management of PFOS/PFOA in our nation’s product,” it is stalling for time – a tactic they’ve used in a host of other egregious environmental crimes. It’s not complicated. The Air Force has been poisoning Americans with PFAS for nearly 50 years and plans to continue doing so.
Editor’s note: – The Air Force does not make the information pertaining to PFAS contamination easily accessible. To search for Air Force sites contaminated by PFAS: Go to the USAF Civil Engineer Center, select the installation nearest you. In this case, Robins AFB. Under “full document search” enter: pfas and click search. Look for a document like this, “Final Site Inspections Report of Fire Fighting Foam Usage at Robins Air Force Base Houston County, Georgia Part 1”
Search for analytical results of PFAS in groundwater. Look for any mention of contamination draining into sanitary sewer systems and find the names of specific poisoned creeks and rivers. It’s happening throughout the country and the Air Force doesn’t want you to know about it. The Army, Navy, and Marines make it even more difficult, if not impossible, to research PFAS contamination.