News Feature | April 2, 2019

Military Pilot Program To Evaluate PFAS Treatment Technology

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

The prevalence of per- and polyfluoroalklyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water sources around the country has the attention of consumers and regulators. And in Pennsylvania, it’s top of mind for the military as well.

At the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove in Horsham, the Navy and Air National Guard spent decades using firefighting foam laden with PFAS, ultimately contaminating local source water and contributing to the treatment crisis today. Now, the military will be working to fix the problem.

“[The Navy] will launch this spring a six-month pilot program, where it will extract groundwater from the most contaminated part of the base, run it through a series of four carbon and ion exchange filters, and evaluate the technology’s effectiveness,” The Intelligencer reported.

While lawmakers throughout the U.S. are looking at ways to better regulate PFAS in drinking water, this may be one of the most comprehensive studies into treatment technology to solve the problem to date.

“The base will play host to several separate studies receiving a total of $5.6 million through a Department of Defense research program,” according to The Intelligencer. “That program will team with academic researchers from schools such as Clemson, Auburn and Drexel universities, as well as the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, to study additional treatment systems and how the chemicals move through the environment.”

In addition to the study, the military has made some efforts to address contamination coming from the joint bases.

At the Navy base, a team has also evaluated two miles of sewer lines and identified 1,400 feet that need to be rehabilitated. It has also removed 3,500 tons of contaminated soil. At the air guard base, an environmental restoration team is planning to upgrade a stormwater outfall treatment system so that it can treat higher volumes.

Still, some have been critical about the military’s efforts, or lack thereof, to address present and future contamination threats from PFAS.

“Chris Crockett, chief environmental officer with water supplier Aqua PA, accused the Navy of cherry picking some data that purported to show PFAS levels decreasing in off-base waterways,” per The Intelligencer. “State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, expressed frustration that the Navy hadn’t sampled streams carrying contaminated water from the bases since June 2018. After an EPA official said the agency had since requested and the Navy had agreed to quarterly sampling, Stephens remained critical.”

While any action to combat PFAS in the environment and learn more about what treatment methods are the most effective is certainly welcome, it could take years to fully address the contamination in Pennsylvania, not to mention the other such instances around the country.

To read more about how treatment operations address PFAS, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.