Barnes Air National Guard ‘taking all appropriate steps’ to probe water contamination in Westfield

by Mary Serreze, originally posted on January 19, 2017


WESTFIELD — Officials with the Barnes Air National Guard said this week they are taking all appropriate steps to investigate groundwater contamination that may have emanated from the Westfield air base.

“We are eager to investigate this issue and take any required actions if necessary, as we are also part of this great community,” said 104th Fighter Wing Commander Colonel James Keefe.

The base has been working with the city of Westfield and the National Guard Bureau in Washington since the pollution issue was identified last May, he added.

Chemicals known as PFCs have entered two wells that provide drinking water for Westfield. The city took the wells offline last year. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, or MassDEP, suspects that firefighting foam used for decades at the air base may be to blame for the pollution.

Guard bases around the country are now dealing with similar allegations, and the issue is being addressed on the national level. Officials at Barnes said they have no authority to deviate from federal procedures, but plan to comply with state cleanup requirements.

John Richardson, environmental manager for the base, said a Jan. 20 meeting has been set between National Guard officials, Westfield Mayor Brian P. Sullivan, and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection officials.

“Our intention is to work together to forge a path forward,” Richardson said.

He said field sampling will be conducted through April and May, involving test wells and soil samples. A final site investigation report should be issued by October.

Richardson noted that the investigation will strive to determine if there is a causative link between the foam and the well contamination. So far, that link has not been scientifically proven.

Richardson said if it is determined there is a link between the contamination and the foam, the guard will take appropriate action. The foam was used widely in training exercises in the military since the 1970s.

The U.S. Air Force expects to investigate dozens of active duty, Air National Guard and closed bases where the foam may have been sprayed. They have entered into a contract with AMEC Foster-Wheeler to conduct the studies around the country.

PFCs are perfluorinated compounds. Under that category are perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA), which some researchers have linked to cancer and other health problems.

The 104th Fighter Wing sent a statement to local media outlets after recent stories appeared that suggested the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee and MassDEP were concerned about the pace of the investigation.

“The 104th Fighter Wing has had a long and standing reputation of being excellent environmental stewards. We understand the serious role we play in protecting our local environment and resource conservation,” said Keefe.

Barnes on Dec. 21 sent MassDEP a letter stating that the air base must follow Air Force and Department of Defense regulations and guidelines and that they have no authority to deviate from that protocol, according to the statement.

The Air National Guard will conduct its investigation of the groundwater issue under Air Force Environmental Restoration Program guidelines, and also plans to comply with the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, which governs site cleanups, said Richardson.

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