by Pat Elder , Military Poison, May 18, 2021
Mark Mank, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) acknowledged “massive contamination” caused by the military’s use of PFAS at the Naval Research Lab – Chesapeake Bay Detachment in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland during the Navy’s RAB meeting on May 18, 2021.
Mank responded to a question asking if there is anywhere on earth with higher levels than the 7,950,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFOS found in the soil in Chesapeake Beach. Mank did not specifically address the question but responded by saying levels in Chesapeake Beach are “significantly elevated.” He said that residents have reasons to be concerned. “We will continue to press the Navy. Stay tuned, more will follow,” he said.
PFAS are per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances. They are used in the fire-fighting foams in routine fire-training exercises on base and have been used on the facility since 1968, longer than anywhere in the world. The chemicals have severely contaminated the soil, groundwater, and surface water in the region. PFAS in the tiniest amounts are linked to fetal abnormalities, childhood diseases, and a host of cancers.
The levels were reported on just 3 of the 18 chemicals tested by the Navy. Private labs typically test for 36 varieties of the toxics. There’s a lot we still don’t know.
The recognition by the state sounds promising, although the rhetoric doesn’t match MDE’s abysmal record. Until now, the MDE and the Maryland Department of Health have been the Navy’s biggest cheerleaders by refusing to to acknowledge the threat to public health posed by the Navy’s indiscriminate and continued use of these chemicals on its bases in the state. Developments in Maryland mirror the way this issue is being played out in states across the country where increasing public concerns have led state agencies to direct public anger toward the DOD.
The Navy dictates environmental policy in Maryland.
Early in the meeting, Ryan Mayer, the Navy’s chief spokesperson with the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) in Washington, showed the briefing slides. that identified PFAS levels in the soil, groundwater, and surface water. He rattled off numbers of subsurface PFAS concentrations by simply saying the number, but not the concentration. Earlier slides of water showed levels in parts per trillion so it was easy for the public to become confused.
He said subsurface soil was found “at 7,950,” although he neglected to mention that soil concentrations are in parts per billion, rather than parts per trillion. The public didn’t know he really meant 7,950,000 parts per trillion for PFOS – just one type of PFAS in the subsurface. Mayer didn’t identify ppb or ppt until David Harris, who owns a contaminated 72 acre farm south of the base, astutely asked in the chat room for clarification.
These contaminants are like a giant cancerous sponge under the ground that perpetually rinses out pollution to the soil, the groundwater, and the surface water. Chesapeake Beach may have the largest subterranean cancerous sponge in the world. It could continue to poison people for a thousand years.
The Navy ought to publish all of the testing it has done here, both on and off the facility, of all deadly chemicals and their concentrations. At this point the Navy has released results of 3 types of PFAS: PFOS, PFOA and PFBS. 36 kinds of PFAS may be identified using the EPA’s testing methodology.
But Mayer, keeping to the Navy’s national playbook, said the Navy won’t identify the specific poisons in the environment because “the chemicals are the proprietary information of the manufacturer.” So, it’s not just the Navy that is dictating environmental policy in the state of Maryland. It’s the chemical companies that make the foams, too.
The Navy uses Chemguard 3% foam at many of its installations, like the Jacksonville NAS which is also heavily contaminated. The Material Safety Data Sheet, contained within the Navy’s report on the contamination there says the ingredients in the foam consist of “proprietary hydrocarbon surfacants” and “proprietary fluorosurfacants.”
What do we know in Southern Maryland?
We know the Navy has dumped massive quantities of PFAS at Webster Field in St. Mary’s County and we can specifically identify 14 chemicals from those releases.
(Webster Field recently reported 87,000 ppt of PFAS in groundwater compared to the 241,000 ppt at Chesapeake Beach.)
These varieties of PFAS have been found in the creek near the shore of the Webster Field annex of the Patuxent River NAS:
PFOA PFOS PFBS
PFHxA PFHpA PFHxS
PFNA PFDA PFUnA
N-MeFOSAA N-EtFOSAA FFDoA
They’re all potentially threatening to human health.
When the results were released in February, 2020, a spokesperson for the MDE said if PFAS were present in the creek it might have come from a firehouse five miles away, or the landfill eleven miles away, rather than the adjacent base. The state’s top enforcement officer cast doubts on the results and said the MDE was early in the process of investigating the contamination.
That damned process. I had my water and seafood tested by top-notch scientists using the EPA’s gold standard and the whole thing was expensive, but it only took a couple of weeks.
PFAS chemicals may affect us and our unborn in a myriad of ways. It’s complex. Some of these compounds may affect newborn weight, and reproductive health. Others may impact respiratory and cardiovascular health. Some have an effect on gastrointestinal health and some are linked to renal and hematological troubles. Some may impact ocular health, others, dermal health.
Many have an impact on the body’s endocrine system. Some, like PFBA, found in Maryland crabs, are linked to people who die more quickly from COVID. Some move in water while some do not. Some (especially PFOA) settle in soil and contaminate the food we eat. Some may impact the developing fetus at the tiniest levels, others may not.
There are 8,000 varieties of these human killers and there’s a battle raging in Congress with a small group calling for regulating all PFAS as a class, while most in Congress prefer to regulate them one at a time, allowing their corporate sponsors to come up with PFAS substitutes in their foams and products. (If we don’t reform our system of federal campaign financing, we’re not going to be successful in ridding the stuff in Chesapeake Beach or anywhere else.)
The Navy doesn’t want families suing them or their corporate pals by claiming in court that a particular type of PFAS was found in high levels in the blood of a loved one when they died from a particular disease. The science is evolving to the point that the detection of certain levels of specific kinds of PFAS in a patient’s body may be traceable to PFAS that came from the Navy’s contamination of the environment.
The Navy must immediately release all testing they’ve conducted in Chesapeake Beach, and locations worldwide, from San Diego to Okinawa, and from Diego Garcia to Rota Naval Station, Spain.
While discussing the deep monitoring well locations, the accompanying slide showed a reading of 17.9 ppt of PFOS and 10 ppt of PFOA on the base that was collected 200’ – 300’ below the surface. This is the level where residents adjacent to the base draw their well water. The levels on base exceed groundwater limits for PFAS in several states.
But more importantly, the Navy and the MDE consistently argue that domestic wells are “believed to be screened in the Piney Point Aquifer,” and that this is below a confining unit, “believed to be laterally continuous and fully confining.”
Obviously, it is not!
We must demand answers from the Navy. Where did you test? What did you find? We must demand the DOD is transparent and begins to function as a respectable institution in a democratic society.
David Harris said it was a fight to get the Navy to test his water because “You guys say that the contamination only went north.” Harris said PFAS was found in his well. Mayer replied that the Harris property “wasn’t originally in the sampling area.”
The Harris property is 2,500 feet south of the base, while PFAS is believed to have travelled 22 miles in streams and creeks from their release at the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and the Naval Air Warfare Center, Warminster in Pennsylvania. It’s unlikely PFAS would travel that far in Chesapeake Beach with surface waters draining into the bay, but 2,500 feet is pretty close.
The vast majority of the lot owners close to the base weren’t in any sampling area. I spoke to people who live on Karen Drive off of Dalrymple Rd., just 1,200 feet from the burn pit on base and they knew nothing about PFAS or well testing. It’s how the Navy does things. They just want it to go away, but it will not go away in Chesapeake Beach because too many townsfolk understand it. Could Chesapeake Beach be the Navy’s PFAS Waterloo? Let’s hope so.
Peggy Williams of MDE responded to two questions from the NRL-CBD RAB Chat Room. “You say you found three wells with PFAS. (1) How can you argue that the PFAS cannot reach the lower aquifer? (2) Doesn’t MDE say the clay layer may not be completely confining? Williams said it was unlikely PFAS could slip through to the lower aquifer, although the Navy reported three wells off-base with PFAS. David Harris reported elevated levels, and the Navy also reported levels in the lower aquifer.
Mayer responded to the question regarding the movement of PFAS between aquifers. “We’ve gotten a few detections and they’re below the LHA,” was his response. Mayer is referring to the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory for just two varieties of the chemicals: PFOS and PFOA. The non-mandatory federal advisory says people shouldn’t drink water containing more than 70 ppt of the total of the two compounds daily. It’s OK with the EPA if you drink water containing a million parts per trillion of PFHxS, PFHpA, and PFNA, three troublesome chemicals several states regulate under 20 ppt.
Public health advocates are warning we should not consume more than 1 ppt of these chemicals in drinking water daily.
The Navy’s man directed attention to a slide that gave the summary of interviews conducted in the community in the summer of 2019. The Navy interviewed nine people and the consensus was to protect the Bay and address shallow wells. Apparently, no one seemed concerned about the deeper wells that almost everyone living close to the base has. No one was concerned about poisoning aquatic life. These are the two most likely ways people are exposed to these chemicals. Of course, the Navy understands all of this.
There are good people in the Navy and naval engineering contractors who also understand this and are deeply concerned. There’s hope.
PFAS isn’t the only contamination problem in Chesapeake Beach. The Navy used uranium, depleted uranium (DU), and thorium and it conducted high velocity DU impact studies in Building 218C and Building 227. The Navy has a long record of shoddy record keeping and has fallen in and out of compliance with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Current records are difficult to retrieve. Groundwater Contaminants include Antimony, Lead, Copper, Arsenic, Zinc, 2,4-Dinitrotoluene, and 2,6-Dinitrotoluene.
The Navy says PFAS is not being released into the environment in Chesapeake Beach.
Mayer was asked if PFAS were still being released into the environment today and he replied, “No.” He said other Navy sites have already been cleaned up because they’re ahead in the process. Mayer said after the PFAS foams are used on base they are “shipped off-site for proper disposal.”
How does that work exactly, Mr. Mayer? Modern science has not developed a way to dispose of PFAS. Whether the Navy buries it in a landfill or incinerates the chemicals, they’ll eventually poison people. The stuff takes nearly forever to break down and it doesn’t burn. Incineration just sprinkles the toxins over lawns and farms. The toxins are gushing out of the base and will continue to do so indefinitely.
The Navy Support Activity – Bethesda, the Naval Academy, the Indian Head Surface Warfare Center, and Pax River have all sent PFAS contaminated media to be incinerated at the Norlite Plant in Cohoes New York. Navy officials during the Pax River RAB last month denied sending PFAS-contaminated materials to be contaminated.
There’s no record of the Navy sending PFAS toxins to be incinerated from Chesapeake Beach.
The Navy’s treatment plant on the Chesapeake Beach base produces about 10 wet tons/year of sludge which is dried in open air sludge beds. The materials are shipped to the Solomons Wastewater Treatment Plant Sludge Receiving Station. From there, the sludge is buried at the Appeal Landfill in Calvert County.
The state ought to be testing wells in Appeal and closely monitoring the deathly leachate.
The town of Chesapeake Beach’s treated effluent is discharged into the Chesapeake Bay by means of a 30-inch pipeline that extends into the Bay to a point approximately 200 feet from the seawall. All wastewater facilities generate and release PFAS toxins. The waters ought to be tested.
PFAS entering wastewater facilities from commercial, military, industrial, waste, and residential sources is not removed from the effluent, while all wastewater treatment plants simply move the PFAS into sludge or wastewater.
The Bay is receiving a double whammy of PFAS contamination in Chesapeake Beach. Although the town’s remaining sludge is transported to the King George Landfill in Virginia, the sludge from the Patuxent River NAS is sent to various farms in Calvert County. We ought to know the names of those farms. Their soils and agricultural products ought to be sampled. The Navy, the MDE, and the MDH won’t do it any time soon. Be careful of what you eat in Calvert County, Maryland.
Chesapeake Beach Councilman Larry Jaworski said he understood the releases from the base have stopped and he encouraged additional testing. It’s good to hear the call for testing, although we cannot trust the Hogan/Grumbles team to do it properly, considering the fiasco of the pilot oyster study in St. Mary’s last year. Mr. Jaworski may have heard the PFAS releases from the base have stopped, but the record suggests otherwise. With 8 million parts per trillion of mostly PFOS in the subsurface soil, people who live along these shores may be dealing with these toxins for a thousand years.
Mayer said the MDE’s pilot oyster study for the St. Mary’s River showed the oysters were below levels of concern for PFAS. The state used a testing method that only picked up levels above parts per billion and only selectively chose certain chemicals to report on. They also used a discredited firm. Independent testing using the EPA’s gold standard method showed PFAS in oysters containing 2,070 ppt, not advisable for human consumption.
In the United States of America, unlike many nations, it is up to each of us to regulate the amount of PFAS entering our bodies. Eating seafood caught from contaminated waters and drinking untreated well water are the primary ways we consume the toxins.
The Navy has released data showing 5,464 ppt in surface water leaving the base. (PFOS – 4,960 ppt., PFOA – 453 ppt., PFBS – 51 ppt.). A trout caught near Loring AFB contained more than a million parts per trillion of PFAS caught from water with lower concentrations than the levels pouring out of the base in Chesapeake Beach.
The state of Wisconsin says public health is threatened when PFAS tops 2 ppt in surface water due to the process of bioaccumulation.
The astronomical PFAS levels in Chesapeake Beach’s surface water may be expected to bioaccumulate in fish by several orders of magnitude, while PFOS is the most problematic in this regard. Some fish near the burn pits of military bases have contained 10 million parts per trillion of the poisons.
Mark Mank said the MDE is aware of bioaccumulation. He added that the methodology issues regarding fish testing are complicated. He said, “This is unfortunate for this community with massive contamination.” The state of Michigan released PFAS test results for 2,841 fish and the average fish contained 93,000 ppt of PFOS alone, while the state limits PFOS in drinking water to 16 ppt.
Jenny Herman with the MDE said she was not aware of large fish studies in Chesapeake Beach. It’s ironic, because the MDE would be the department in state government to call for such a study. She said the state is testing fish tissue and those results may be ready in July. Mark Mank also said the MDE is looking at the fish. “Not in front of this facility, but other places.” Later in the program, Williams said the MDE will test fish in Chesapeake Beach in the fall of 2021. Hopefully, MDE won’t call on Alpha Analytical to do their testing again. Alpha Analytical produced the oyster pilot oyster study. They were fined $700,000 for mislabeling contaminants in Massachusetts.
David Harris asked about contaminated deer meat and the MDE’s Jenny Herman responded that the MDE is “still kind of early in the process.” Michigan has been on it for many years. Maybe MDE could call them. The Air Force has contaminated deer meat to the point where eating it has been banned in areas. Mayer said there is no EPA method and that the testing labs are all different. It sure sounds complicated.
Peggy Williams with the MDE added that PFAS is often found in the muscle of the deer, like with crabs, she explained, the PFAS is mostly in the mustard. Although she was implying it’s OK to eat crabs because the poisons are confined to the mustard, this was actually a breakthrough because it signaled the first time an MDE official has admitted the existence of PFAS in crabs. I tested crab and found 6,650 ppt of PFAS in the backfin. That’s three times the concentration of PFAS in the oysters, but just a third of the levels in the rockfish down here in St. Mary’s County.
Williams told the Patuxent River NAS RAB two weeks ago that deer contamination wasn’t an issue in St. Mary’s County because the spring water on base is brackish and deer don’t drink brackish water. Of course, they do.
Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, called the oyster – 2,070 ppt, crab – 6,650 ppt, and rockfish – 23,100 ppt concentrations of PFAS ”troubling.” We’ll see if it’s troubling enough for the state to take measures to protect public health.
Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not consume food or water containing PFAS.