No mandates for PFOS contamination

by John O’Connor, originally posted on October 31, 2016


While the Guam Environmental Protection Agency is working with the U.S. Department of the Navy to determine the source of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) contamination in water wells at the former Naval Air Station Agana – now the A.B. Won Pat International Airport – the local regulatory agency isn’t necessarily able to impose sanctions or mandates on whatever entity is responsible for the contamination, according to GEPA Administrator Walter Leon Guerrero.

Guam Waterworks Authority General Manager Miguel Bordallo told members of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities (CCU) on Oct. 19 that GEPA was in talks with the U.S. Department of Defense to determine potential responsibility on the part of the Navy for PFOS contamination of the NAS-1 water well in Tiyan. The property where Guam’s commercial airport now stands was under military control up until 1995.

But Leon Guerrero told the Post last week that because PFOS is an unregulated chemical under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, GEPA has no regulatory authority over the Navy even if its activities are determined to be the source of the contamination.

“Guam EPA can’t force any mandates on anybody, so any work that’s done on this is voluntary compliance,” Leon Guerrero said.

Health notices

In August, GWA issued health notices to about 1,000 customers affected by PFOS contamination. In May, USEPA issued a lifetime health advisory for PFOS of 70 parts per trillion. Prior to that, the federal agency issued a 2009 provisional health advisory for 200 parts per trillion for PFOS.

There are about 30 unregulated contaminants being monitored under the third cycle of the USEPA Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. The federal agency collects information from water utilities participating in the program to determine if further regulation is needed.

However, the stricter advisory threshold affected several utilities nationwide, according to reports from The Intercept website, some of which immediately began implementing measures to mitigate PFOS exposure, such as blending drinking water sources to dilute the concentration of the chemical. GWA detected PFOS in three water wells in 2015 – NAS-1 and two wells in central village areas. All three were shut down in August, according to GWA officials.

Two more wells in the Tiyan area were later found to be contaminated with PFOS but these wells had treatment systems that reduced the chemical to acceptable levels by the time the water was distributed, officials added.

PFOS may cause developmental issues in fetuses and other adverse health effects when consumed above certain levels. It is part of a large group of perfluoroalkyl substances used in various products, including food items, according to USEPA.

Contamination of water resources has been associated with releases from industrial sites, fire or crash training sites and industrial or municipal waste dumping.

The Navy is aware of the PFOS issue at NAS-1, according to Catherine Norton, public affairs officer with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas.

“NAS Agana was closed in 1995 in a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) effort. Soil samples at this site were analyzed for volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls and metals,” Norton stated.

“However, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are emerging contaminants, were not a contaminant of potential concern when these studies were initiated in 1995.”

Developing plans

Norton said that the Navy is developing a work plan to address the findings at Tiyan in coordination with GEPA, the airport authority, GWA, USEPA and other stakeholders. The plan includes sampling of nearby monitoring wells in the area for the presence of PFCs.

Leon Guerrero, on the other hand, stated that just because GEPA could not impose regulatory mandates, does not mean nothing is being done to address PFOS contamination. The responsibility of cleaning the wells now falls under GWA, which is in the process of rehabilitating a treatment system for NAS-1 and procuring portable treatment systems for the two wells in central villages.

“GEPA has been assured by GWA that protection of human health and environment is being done,” Leon Guerrero said.

Norton echoed similar sentiments in her own statement, “The health and safety of the community is a priority and the Navy is committed to working closely with GWA, (the airport authority), Guam EPA and USEPA Region 9 to address the issue.”

Whether talks between DOD and regulatory agencies will result in any mitigating action by the Navy or compensation to GWA for its mitigation efforts remains to be seen.

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