Article Display

Shaw leads with innovative environmental restoration projects

  • Published
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force 20th Civil Engineer Squadron (CES) and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) continue efforts to investigate, monitor and treat the presence of chemical compounds known as PFAS in water sources at and around Shaw Air Force Base.

PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been historically and widely used in commercial and industrial products, as well as in firefighting foam. In particular, the 20th CES and AFCEC are addressing the presence of two common PFAS compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effects of consuming water with low levels of PFOS and PFOA are uncertain as it pertains to human health, but could be harmful based on studies conducted over the past several decades. This potential risk to health sparked state environmental regulators across the country to address the presence of these chemicals in drinking water sources.

In 2010, the AFCEC found that PFOS and PFOA could have seeped into groundwater at Air Force installations due to the use of a legacy firefighting foam containing the chemicals. Accordingly, uniformed and civilian civil engineers assigned to Shaw have been working closely with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) to identify potential affected drinking water supplies from the use of legacy firefighting foam in the past and collect samples to verify chemical releases. Based on the location of the water supply and concentration of PFOS and PFOA, they then map the possible pathways to water sources in order to proactively take action and notify residents in the community potentially affected by the plume.

“Whenever we detect PFOS [and PFOA near an Air Force installation], our first priority is to look for whoever might receive [that] water from their well and address them,” said Wendell Williams, 20th CES chief of environmental programs. “If we identify any of the pollutants, we make efforts to start mitigating and treating [it].”

In line with Environmental Protection Agency recommendations and in close coordination with SC DHEC, Air Force civil engineers at Shaw proactively seek out owners of private wells near the base to collect samples and offer bottled water services or connect affected communities to a privately run water system off base if levels of PFOS and PFOA exceed a certain threshold.

“[Shaw Air Force Base] is taking a proactive approach in monitoring and treating the spread, especially off base,” said Juvenal Salomon, AFCEC remedial project manager. “We are using authority from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to commit funds to the restoration of the water supply.”

Air Force civil engineers installed an advanced resin-based filtration system on base which extracts water containing PFOS and PFOA from its source and flows it into a large holding tank containing resin beads that capture pollutant molecules, allowing the clean water to pass through and be injected back into the groundwater or discharged into the Wateree River. These efforts act as part of the continued effort to upgrade the methods and technology used to mitigate the plume of PFOS and PFOA-affected groundwater.

To prevent the future release of PFOS and PFOA, Shaw replaced the legacy firefighting formulations containing the chemicals with more environmentally responsible alternatives. Fire vehicles were also retrofitted to prevent discharge of chemicals during firefighting activities as well as during routine equipment testing and training.

“Our long-term goals are to investigate the contamination further and determine the full scale of the plume,” said Salomon. “Our short-term goals are to address and take care of the more immediate [recipients] of this water and reach out to them for water testing and to offer some solutions.”

Shaw civil engineer squadron staff have broken ground on a new water treatment project that expands the reach of its water collection by installing multiple large trenches to extract affected water to send to treatment plants. After the water has been treated, it is returned to the trenches where it is injected back into the ground to mitigate the spread of PFOS and PFOA.

“We are a part of the community as well,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Oxendine, 20th CES commander. “We live here, work here and our kids go to school here so we’re charged, not only within the [20th CES], but within the 20th Fighter Wing to do our part to help out with that effort and share a positive impact with the local community.”

Members of the public are invited to attend and participate in Shaw’s annual restoration advisory board meeting scheduled for May 22, 2023 from 6:30-8:30 p.m at the Patriot Park pavilion at 200 General Drive, Sumter, SC 29150. The public forum is intended to discuss and exchange information on current and future environmental cleanup projects.