19 Wing to conduct precautionary groundwater testing

Firefighting foam the cause of potential groundwater contamination

Over the coming months, 19 Wing will be conducting precautionary groundwater testing on properties near the base.

According to a letter distributed to nearby residents, through 19 Wing’s environmental monitoring program, perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) were detected in soil and groundwater at the base and in Scales Creek. 19 Wing did not indicate how much of the substance was detected.

In this case, the PFAS are attributed to firefighting foams. These foams were used for training purposes at 19 Wing in the past, but are no longer used. According to 19 Wing Public Affairs, training with AFFF foam was ceased in 2008, but the foam is still held at the base for emergency use as it is the most effective method of extinguishing fuel-based fires.

“We are committed to responsibly managing the effects of our operational legacy, and doing our part to safeguard the health of Canadians,” reads a statement from 19 Wing Public Affairs. “[Department of National Defense] is currently investigating to determine the presence or absence of PFAS in the vicinity of the base.”

Residents located near the base are invited to take part in a survey to determine how they use surface and groundwater and whether or not their residential wells are in use. Depending on the results of this survey, residents would have the option to participate in a voluntary drinking water well monitoring program.

“As part of our commitment to being a good neighbour and environmental steward, DND conducts regular testing of the places we train and work,” continues the statement from 19 Wing. “Military activities can have an effect on soil and water, and we want to ensure that we minimize risk to Canadians and the environment.”

According to Christianne Wile, manager of external relations with the Comox Valley Regional District, properties located near Scales Creek are a part of the Comox Valley Water Local Service Area and should all have access to treated drinking water. Any of these properties could have secondary wells but the CVRD cannot confirm the number of properties with these wells.

Charmaine Enns, medical health officer with Island Health, said Island Health is aware of the testing. She adds there needs to be a significant amount of PFAS found in the water for it to have any health impacts.

“Depending on [the results of the testing] we can make an assessment. This usually does not result in any negative health impacts in these kinds of settings,” she said. “Negative impacts are a function of two things – one is the levels you are exposed to and over what period of time. So first of all, is the water even impacted, and if so, what are the levels because there is a certain amount that’s considered quite safe without any impact at all.”

According to 19 Wing, over the coming months, the base will test and monitor the quality of well water, nearby creeks, rivers and water used for irrigation on rural properties. The water testing for private drinking water wells will begin at the beginning of December 2018. Results are expected in spring of 2019 which will inform next steps and any site-specific remediation work.

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