The Indian Wells Valley May Contain The Highest Concentration of Toxic PFAS-Polluted Groundwater in the U.S. (Update 11/18/21)

“The Environmental Protection Agency sets 70 parts-per-trillion as the maximum safe level. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, reported 8 million parts-per-trillion in its ground water.”

Aqueous film-forming foam system test on USS JF Kennedy (CV-67) 1987. Credit PH2 Day, USN

November 16, 2021

Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake California

The Senate is about to pass the fiscal year 2022 NDAA which will require the Secretary of Defense to conduct testing, removal, and remediation of a toxic groundwater pollutant named PFAS. It’s found at 700 military installations, formerly used defense sites, and State-owned facilities of the National Guard in the United States. The toxic chemical has come to be known as “the forever chemical” because it doesn’t break down and isn’t easily removed from water. As reported by defensenews.com,

On 14 installations, PFAS levels measured 1 million parts-per-trillion in the ground water, while the Environmental Protection Agency sets 70 parts-per-trillion as the maximum safe level. Some places topped even that number. Naval Weapons Station China Lake, California, reported 8 million parts-per-trillion in its ground water.

The Department of Defense has formed a Task Force to work with communities to cleanup groundwater polluted by the toxic foam. In addition, the DoD’s PFAS website includes a comprehensive overview of the problem and solutions being implemented to treat and remove the pollutant from military bases nationwide.

In addition to NAWS, the Navy has 35 locations in California to assess for PFAS. The testing and public disclosure of results will be required within 10 days after test results are complete. All DoD facilities where the substance is found will be tested within the next two years. In addition, the toxic foam is still used and must be discontinued by 2024. The costs of remediation and replacement of equipment will be in the hundreds of billions.

Because the chemical persists in the groundwater “forever”, it’s likely to have spread beyond the areas of the base where it was used for training and testing for decades. PFAS has been used in other products besides the foam fire retardant. In May of this year, China Lake tested a new “PFAS-free” foam pursuant to Section 322 of the 2020 NDAA and briefed Congress in September. The report is found here.

Update November 18, 2021: In today’s Water Management Committee meeting, Don Zdeba, general manager for IWVWD announced that the district tested its wells for PFAS as recently as October and found no contamination. The status of any groundwater testing conducted on the Navy’s wells is unknown.

PFAS Explained by the EPA

PFAS: A National Issue That Needs National Solutions

Interactive map of 678 Military Sites With Known and Suspected Discharges of PFAS.

The DoD released its first report from the PFAS Task Force in March 2020

HR 4350 National Defense Authorization Act FY 2022 (pdf) See Title III, Sections 319-321

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-10-08/firefighting-foam-leaves-toxic-legacy-california-water