Introduction to Groundwater Contamination by PFAS at Airports and Military Bases

GroundwaterU Video Summary

The video presents an overview of the composition, use, and effects of PFAS on groundwater near airports. PFAS stands for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (pronounced “P-fas”, like the word fast). There are more than 8,000 individual synthetic chemicals within the PFAS group. A unique molecular property of PFAS is very strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which makes them very resistant to heat and degradation, and they are water and oil repellent.

There are potential health concerns related to PFAS: “Current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes. Research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can lead to a variety of health effects.” (November 2021).

“AFFF” stands for Aqueous Film Forming Foam (pronounced “A-triple-ef”), which contains PFAS. Therefore, it is very efficient for extinguishing fuel-based fires such as jet fuel. Fire training exercises using AFFF have been performed at civilian and military airports globally beginning in the 1960s. Over the course of years to decades, PFAS accumulates in the soil in the vicinity of the training areas (and other areas, as noted below), which results in a PFAS groundwater plume.

In some instances, municipal water supply wells can get contaminated by the PFAS plume. The animation shows how a deep wells pulls the plume downward and impacts the municipal water quality. Impacted groundwater could also be due to distant sources, such as leaching of biosolids used in agriculture and leaching from landfills.

AFFF releases can result in multiple groundwater plumes over a large area due to extinguishing aircraft fires, accidental releases from fire suppression system testing in hangars, current or previous fire training areas, and leaching from sediment in surface water runoff retention basins and wastewater treatment plant sludge ponds, for example. The animation shows a map view of potential plume distribution under these circumstances.

Photo credits provided in the YouTube video post.

About this Video

Video Creator: Andrew J.B. Cohen
Recommended/Summary by: Andrew J.B. Cohen
Curated by GroundwaterU on: 3/1/2022

Video Language: English
Video Category: Science/Engineering
Multimedia Type: Film/Pictures, Animation/Simulation, Drawings/Graphs/Maps
Presentation Style: Other
Technical Level: Beginner