ODON, Indiana – After low levels of chemicals known as PFAS were discovered in drinking water samples, U.S. Navy and state officials want residents living near Naval Support Activity Crane in southern Indiana to sign up for private drinking water well testing.
Officials from Crane, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and other government offices provided information on the possible contamination at a public information meeting at Crane May 15.
“We identified a couple of areas where we have had a potential release and there is a potential for off-base migration,” said Tim Reisch, supervisory environmental engineer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic, the command responsible for managing the environmental support for Navy facilities across the globe.
PFAS is a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in many consumer and industrial products since the 1940s. PFAS and its derivatives were created to be flame and water resistant. In the 1970s the U.S. military began using the compounds for an effective firefighting foam.
Over time, researchers found PFAS was linked to several adverse health conditions in humans and animals, including testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, low birth weight, accelerated puberty in children and thyroid problems.
After the U.S. Department of Defense released an environmental report in 2018 referencing possible PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, Indiana Environmental Reporter wrote about how Hoosiers who have served on bases including Grissom Air Reserve Base near Kokomo may have been exposed to the chemicals.
The Navy also took an inventory of its installations to determine where the aqueous film-forming foam containing PFAS may have been discharged. Eventually, it determined the foam may have been used at NSA Crane’s firefighting training area and other locations on base.
The Navy says a former fire station and a closed sanitary landfill have been identified as possible sources of PFAS contamination.
“We don’t know if there’s been a release,” Reisch said. “We don’t know if it’s migrated off the base at this point, but we are very concerned about the drinking water quality of our neighbors. The only way to identify if there’s current exposure right now is to go sample those drinking water wells.”
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a non-enforceable, non-regulatory Lifetime Health Advisory for PFAS, determining that the safest level for humans over a lifetime is 70 ppt.
Nationally, at least 610 sites in 43 states have PFAS levels above the 70 ppt advisory level.
Recently, the EPA began the regulatory process that would potentially set a maximum legal limit of PFAS allowed in drinking water. A U.S. Senate bill introduced this month seeks to force EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler to set the maximum contaminant level within two years.
Drinking water wells sampled on NSA Crane October 2016 did show traces of the PFAS compound, but did not exceed the EPA’s 70 ppt lifetime health advisory.
The Navy sampled five monitoring wells aboard NSA Crane in May 2018. Only two of the five well samples tested positive for PFAS. Out of those positive samples, only the one had PFAS levels above 70 ppt.
“The Navy is taking a very proactive approach to this,” said Cmdr. Tim Powers, commanding officer of NSA Crane. “There are really no regulatory requirements with regards to PFAS, but the Navy said, ‘Great, we’re going to go out and do this’ anyways. We want to see if it’s in the water.”
Navy officials urge property owners and residents in the Burns City area and residents near the Martin and Daviess county line to call 1-833-737-7267 to schedule a well sampling. For more information, contact NSA Crane Public Affairs Office at (812) 854-3524.