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Navy Samples Drinking Water Near Whiting and Outlying Fields

Spencer Field.jpg
Sandra Averhart
/
WUWF Public Media
The Navy is sampling drinking water wells on and around NAS Whiting Field and its Outlying Landing Fields, including Spencer Field in Pace.

The Navy is continuing its investigation of drinking water wells on and around its bases. Environmental teams from the Navy are now focused on sampling at NAS Whiting Field in Santa Rosa County and its Outlying Landing Fields in Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

“The last several months, we have been sampling the community residents around Whiting Field, about a mile outside the property,” said Julie Ziegenhorn, Public Affairs Officer for NAS Whiting Field.

In March, the Navy initiated off-base drinking water sampling near the base north of Milton. During the month of June, the scope of the work is expanding.

“Now, we are moving out to our outlying landing fields, out in Alabama, western Alabama near Foley and north in Evergreen and Brewton, and closer in here in Santa Rosa County to our OLFs that are here in the area.”

In Santa Rosa, that includes Spencer Field in Pace, as well Outlying Landing Fields Pace, Santa Rosa, Harold, and Holley, which is now being used as a solar field.

Letters and postcards have been sent to residents in the affected areas requesting to sample drinking water wells that are their primary source of water.

The first round of sampling around the OLF’s was slated to begin last Friday and continue until this Friday, June 18. The Navy has scheduled another timeframe from June 25 – July 2.

An online video presentation, available at whitingfieldpfas.com, is designed to be a summary of several topics related to the Navy’s drinking water well investigation.

navywhitingfield-presentation-web-update.mp4

For a little background, Ziegenhorn says the Navy’s testing of drinking water dates back five years ago.

“In 2016, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) established a drinking water lifetime health advisory level for certain compounds in the PFAS family for certain per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, specifically PFAS and PFOA,” Ziegenhorn said.

These are compounds found in common commercial products such as non-stick cookware, and stain-resistant products such as carpet. They are also components of the aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, a firefighting foam used by the Navy and other agencies for testing, training, and firefighting.

“Because the EPA has set this lifetime health advisory level, the Navy is moving out and looking at locations where we may have had historical or known use of the firefighting foam,” she declared.

“And, we’re going to request to sample folks in those areas that might have drinking water wells to ensure that our community partners are not drinking water with these compounds above the lifetime health advisory level.”

That level is 70 parts per trillion. For a visual, Ziegenhorn compares the amount to a teaspoon from the large water towers utilized throughout the region.

While there are no health studies available, the Navy is collaborating with the EPA Region 4, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the state Department of Health.

The Navy began testing drinking water in designated areas in 2016. In 2019, data from drinking water testing around NAS Pensacola and nearby Corry Station and Saufley Field in southwest Escambia County. The results showed 13 out of 50 wells tested around Saufley had levels above EPA’s lifetime health advisory.

As part of the initial investigation at NAS Whiting, 23 areas on base, including the former Crash Crew Fire Training Area, have been identified as confirmed or potential PFAS releases. Testing on and around the Milton-area base has been conducted and some of the results are in.

NAS Whiting and OLFs Map.jpg
A map of the water sampling areas.

“Our first go-round resulted in 3 results that exceeded the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory,” said Susan Brink, PAO for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Southeast.

“When that happens, we automatically look at where those residents are in alignment with that mile radius that we’ve set as a first round of looking at the drinking water wells,” she began.

“If those residents’ homes that had exceedances, if there’re more properties outside that mile, we go one-half mile each time we find an exceedance until we don’t find any more exceedances.”

As the Navy expands to outlying fields, officials are working on a second set of testing around Whiting, in which the results show 3 more residents with exceedances, with six more test results pending.

“So, as soon as we get those results, we will evaluate that area again to see if we do need to step out farther; and if we do, we will send more postcards and letters and set up another round of sampling,” Brink stated.

In cases where residents’ drinking water wells exceed the 70 parts per trillion lifetime health advisory for PFAS exposure, bottled water is being provided while the Navy seeks the best long-term solution.

“The environmental team will go out and do an engineering study to determine what is available in the area. Is there municipal water lines already close to the residents, or how far away are they. A lot of that will determine how long it will take to get someone hooked up to municipal water or even if that’s the best feasible action.”

Other options may include some kind of filtration system or possibly a new well.

Including areas around Whiting and its 11 outlying landing fields, the Navy projects about 300 private wells will be tested.

Ziegenhorn says it’s important to remember the sampling process is voluntary, limited to specific areas around the military properties, and is for drinking water only.

“We’re requesting to sample wells of folks that have their primary drinking water source from their wells. If they’re hooked up to city water, we would not be sampling those particular wells that might be used for irrigation or sprinklers. That type of thing,” she said.

Residents can get information about the Navy’s drinking water well testing, review maps, search their address to determine if their property is in a sampling area and find a number to call for appointments online at whitingfieldpfas.com.