Did Joint Base Fire Operations Contaminate Jackson Drinking Water? Base Officials Seeking Private Well Samples


JACKSON-Fire suppression chemicals used for decades in fire training exercises and emergencies at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst has been found in quantities far exceeding EPA health advisory levels and base officials are asking Jackson residents to send in water samples for testing to determine how much those chemicals spread into the local water supplies.

The Air Force is currently sampling drinking water on base and in other surrounding towns for the presence of perfluoroctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) after base Health Advisory Levels (HAL) were exceeded.

A May 2016 report by The Intelligencer said the foam has been used to put out fuel fires on the base during training exercises and emergencies for decades and has now been detected in base drinking water.   An investigation found those chemicals may have reached Jackson water sources.


The EPA said PFOA and PFOS are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. They have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease or stains. They are also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.

The chemicals were phased out by their primary manufacturer in the United States between 2000 and 2002.  Eight major companies have also voluntarily agreed to stop using the chemicals in their products.

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“While consumer products and food are a large source of exposure to these chemicals for most people, drinking water can be an additional source in the small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies,” the EPA said of the chemicals.  “Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility, for example, an industrial facility where these chemicals were produced or used to manufacture other products or an airfield at which they were used for firefighting.”


The EPA suggests levels over 70 parts per trillion (.2 per billion) are acceptable. Testing at the base found PFOA and PFOS levels in the drinking water as high as 580 parts per billion according to tests performed in 2015 by SES Construction and Fuel Services, of Tennessee.

That level is 2,900 times higher than the EPA guidance level, according to the 2016 Independent report.


According to The Intelligencer, the military, in 2015, found 30 possible sites around the base including streams and aquifers that could be transporting the chemicals to water sources outside of the base.  A test of those supplies was performed in August of 2016, which led to the notice published by the base this week, calling for voluntary sampling in Jackson and other towns surrounding the base.


“The preliminary assessment did not identify any immediate threats that would warrant sampling off base,” Staff Sgt. Caitlin Jones, a public affairs officer with the joint base, said in an email to The Intelligencer last spring.

Now, those samples are being requested by base officials.

How does PFOA, PFOS affect humans?  Studies indicate that exposure to them over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).


You can read the full 2016 report at the Intelligencer.

The township this week sent out an “Important message for residents with private drinking wells”, offering free sample testing by the Joint Base. You can find out more on the Jackson Township website at www.jacksontwpnj.net.

Is Jackson’s MUA water safe?  According to Jackson MUA Executive Director David Harpell, the water is safe and was recently tested.


“The Joint Bases’ groundwater issues have not and will not affect the public water supply in Jackson,” Harpell said.  “Fortunately, due to location and depth of impact, there is no risk to the Jackson Township MUA’s public water supply wells from this problem.”

The Jackson Township MUA was required to test for PFOA and PFOS as part of the USEPA’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) and all 28 samples (14 for PFOA and 14 for PFOS) were below detection limits, according to Harpell.

“With that being said, JTMUA is concerned with the impact to private wells in the area and we have recommended to the Joint Base that they consider extending our water infrastructure to this area if a problem is found during the testing,” He added.


“We are very proud of the water system in Jackson,” Harpell said. “We have spent $30 million in capital improvements in the past 10 years and have major improvements being bid in 2017 (primarily a new water treatment plant and water main extension near Six Flags).  These efforts have made our system very robust and resilient even though we have been able to keep rates stable.”

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