Dover AFB installs water filtration systems on nearby properties

DOVER — Contractors and personnel from Dover Air Force Base completed installation of whole-house water filtration systems on four properties previously identified as being above the lifetime health advisory level for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination, believed to be caused by the base’s use of firefighting foam.

The installations occurred throughout March, with the final installation finishing April 2.

The four affected properties were identified following water sampling in July 2019. Further water sampling of these properties is scheduled for this spring to ensure the water filtration systems are working properly. Until then, residents of these properties have been advised to continue utilizing bottled water provided by Dover AFB.

A press release issued by Dover Air Force Base on Monday said, “The filtration system installation is another step in Dover AFB’s continued commitment to providing clean drinking water to affected properties in an effort to protect public health.”

Dover AFB also continues working with the city of Dover to achieve a long-term solution for affected properties.

The properties northwest of the base had been experiencing water problems due to the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) for firefighting procedures on base.

To help remedy the situation, the city’s Utility Committee voted on Oct. 29, 2019, to follow a staff recommendation to waive an annexation requirement for properties from 1140 to 1290 South Bay Road so that they may receive water service from the city.

The properties include a shopping center with five businesses, two residences and an office building.

Sharon Duca, Dover’s director of Public Works, said at that council meeting last October the annexation is typically “required to connect to our utilities, but due to the situation of this location and the public safety issues, as well as the fact that it was not due to any conditions of the property owners or their fault, we’re requesting that the waiver be granted for requiring annexation in order to connect to the city of Dover water.

“Some of the (four) private wells on these properties (on South Bay Road) have been found to include these chemicals (PFOS, PFOA). As a result of the analysis, the recommendation has been by the Air Force Base to connect to public water supply and the city of Dover’s supply is the closest and the city of Dover, just to clarify, has not tested positive for these chemicals. We don’t have ground wells close to the base.”

The Environmental Protection Agency published lifetime health advisories for PFOS and PFOA chemicals of 70 parts per trillion when found in drinking water. Samples by DAFB of private wells on South Bay Road in June 2019 found the levels of the chemicals exceeded 70 parts per trillion.

DAFB officials believe the cause of the chemical levels is from their use of the firefighting foam.

Who’s going to pay?

Apparently, the biggest tie-up now for the properties to connect to city of Dover utilities is who will pay for the project.

Lt. Col. Vhance V. Valencia wrote a letter dated Sept. 26, 2019, to Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell formally asking the city to prepare for the water project for Bay Road.

“The Air Force believes the best course of action for the affected properties is to connect them to the city of Dover public water supply,” he wrote.

“However, I am not authorized to obligate the Air Force to pay for the connection. At this time, the Air Force is reviewing whether it may design and pay for the construction of an extension to the existing city of Dover water main located on the east side of South Bay Road.

“Per preliminary discussions with your staff, the water main will need to be extended across South Bay Road and continue south along the west side of the road, to the southernmost affected property.”

He added, “The Air Force will work closely with city of Dover personnel and will keep you apprised regarding the determination of our ability to pay for the connections to the city of Dover public water supply.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen was confident that the Air Force will be the ones who will pay for the water project at the council meeting in October.

“We’ve had other bases that have had similar situations and they have picked up the entire tab for coming up with water, so I think we’re in good shape as for the cost of it,” he said.

Delegation seeks solutions

Members of the Delaware’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett in early March requesting a site visit to Dover Air Force Base to address the per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances discovered in some private and commercial groundwater sources.

The substances, which can be harmful to humans, were found near the northwestern and eastern boundaries of the base.

The three members of the delegation had previously requested Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visit the site.

“The two recent and additional discoveries of contaminated commercial wells near the air base underscore the importance of a senior Air Force official visiting Dover AFB and publicly briefing the local community, Delaware state government and the congressional delegation on the plans for PFAS mitigation surrounding the airbase,” Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester wrote.

“Such a briefing should include plans to provide permanent municipal water sources to the surrounding community, current or planned remediation efforts, and other efforts undertaken and proposed by the Department of Defense that may affect the Dover, Delaware community.”