Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

GRIFFISS AIR FORCE BASE (11 AREAS)
ROME, NY

Cleanup Activities

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Background

The Griffiss Air Force Base (AFB) site is located in Rome, New York. The 3,552-acre base began operations in 1943 under the Air Combat Command and served as home to various Air Force operations over the years. On July 1, 1970, the 416th Bombardment Wing of the Strategic Air Command was activated with the mission of maintenance and implementation of both effective air refueling operations and long-range bombardment capability, but in 1993 and 1995, Griffiss AFB was designated for realignment under the Base Realignment and Closure Act which resulted in the deactivation of the 416th Bombardment Wing in September 1995. While active base operations have now ceased and been relocated to other areas across the county, the Rome Laboratory, Northeast Air Defense Sector and the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) still operate at the base. 

During the 50 years of operation, hazardous wastes were generated from various activities including: aircraft operation; testing and maintenance; firefighting exercises; discharge of munitions; landfill operations; and research and development activities. Over the years, these wastes were disposed of in landfills and dry wells located across the base which led to investigations into contamination that could pose threats to public health and the environment.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

In the late 1980’s, residents in the Town of Floyd became concerned when contamination was discovered in a number of private groundwater wells located in the town. In 1990, as an interim action prior to determining the actual source of the contamination, the Air Force began providing bottled water to affected residents, and provided funds to the community for the construction of an extension of the municipal water supply. Hook-ups to the water supply extension were available by late 1991, and most residents believed to have been affected by the contamination took advantage of this new water supply. The provision of safe drinking water eliminated any potential for exposure to hazardous substances from groundwater in this area. An EPA-funded program to provide sampling and testing of residential wells over a wider area determined that off-base contamination was not more extensive than previously found in Floyd. This monitoring program was conducted jointly by the EPA and NYS Department of Health (NYDOH) to determine if off-base well contamination extended beyond the Floyd area. Results of a one and one-half year test program were negative, and indicated that the contamination was limited. Supplemental investigations of groundwater at the former Griffiss AFB have shown that contamination has not migrated off-base. Since the early 1990’s, on-base groundwater contaminant plumes have been addressed by groundwater extraction and treatment systems, several of which are still in operation. Some smaller plumes have already been remediated. Contamination at all source areas at the base has been cleaned up by the Air Force. The base landfills have been capped and groundwater monitoring at the landfills has been conducted since the 1990’s. Access to sites at the base where cleanup has not yet been fully completed is restricted via fencing, signage, and gates. All other areas of known contamination have been addressed via land use controls / institutional controls (LUC/ICs) contained in Records of Decision (RODs), and property transfer documents. All areas of groundwater contamination undergo periodic sampling, and extraction of groundwater at these areas is prohibited through the use of LUC/ICs incorporated into property transfer documents and all deeds for transfer. Additional restrictions on land use, such as restriction to non-residential uses, and restrictions that address soil vapor intrusion (SVI), have also been incorporated into the applicable RODs and property deeds. Sub-slab Vapor Mitigation (SSVM) systems to address SVI have been installed at four buildings.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

PFAS Investigations:

PFAS History

Fire-fighting training exercises conducted at the base since 1970 included the use of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) containing PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances).  Other potential PFAS sources include aircraft crash and fire areas, AFFF storage and testing areas, and fuel spill areas.

 Work Performed

The Air Force conducted a Site Investigation (SI) of the base fire training area in 2015 to determine the presence of 14 PFAS compounds in soil, groundwater, surface water, and sediment at and down-gradient of the site.  PFAS were detected in all media, and in groundwater and surface water above the EPA Health Advisory Level (HAL) established for drinking water for the PFAS compounds perfluorooctanyl sulfate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) combined.  EPA reviewed the draft SI Report and provided comments on it to the AF.  The AF revised the SI Report and submitted a final SI Report to EPA in April 2016.

 In 2015 and 2016 the AF reviewed off-base areas within 1 mile of the former base perimeter and performed a well survey.  Based upon that review, it was determined all residences within this radius had been connected to municipal water.  In addition, there are no potable wells on AF-retained property and only one non-potable well on base property.  This well was sampled and was non-detect for PFAS.  The well survey included the golf course irrigation system, which was also found to be on municipal water. In late 2017 the AF reinitiated an off-base well survey in response to a request from NYSDEC.  The AF  worked with the City of Rome to identify properties on municipal water and matched them up with local tax records to identify any potential additional groundwater users within 4 miles of the base boundary.  The AF survey was completed in 2018 and identified no groundwater users within 4 miles of the base boundary. 

 The AF conducted a base-wide Preliminary Assessment (PA) in 2015 to identify other potential areas of PFAS contamination at the base for sampling investigations.  This assessment identified 17 additional areas for investigation, which included aircraft crash and fire areas, AFFF storage and testing areas, fuel spill areas, and receiving surface water bodies.  EPA reviewed the draft PA and provided comments on it to the AF.  The AF then submitted a final PA in July 2015, which was approved by EPA.

 In 2016 the AF initiated a base-wide Site Inspection (SI) for the 17 AFFF sites identified in the PA, as well as 1 additional area. EPA reviewed the draft Work Plan and provided comments on it to the AF.  The AF then submitted a final Work Plan for the SI, which EPA approved prior to the start of sampling.  The draft SI Report was submitted by the AF in April 2017.  EPA reviewed the draft document and submitted comments to the AF in June 2017.  Among EPA’s concerns with the draft SI was that potential ecological impacts were not adequately addressed in the Report, including plans for future evaluations.  Recreational use of the on-base surface water bodies was also not adequately addressed.  The AF submitted a final SI Report in November 2018, which was limited to presence / absence of AFFF (and PFAS concentrations), and did not address many of our comments. In our final comments on the SI, we requested that the AF conduct PFAS sampling at the base boundary, downgradient of the PFAS-impacted areas.  See next steps below for additional concerns.

 Next Steps

The AF has indicated that it will eventually conduct a follow-up Remedial Investigation (RI) to determine the full nature and extent of PFAS contamination at the Fire Training Area and AFFF SI sites where the presence of PFAS was confirmed.  The timeframe for this is not clear, however, and likely will be based on promulgation of regulatory standards for PFAS by NYSDEC and/or EPA. No further PFAS investigations are planned by the AF over the short term due to current AF policy, which calls for additional investigations only at areas in which there have been actual impacts to drinking water supplies. There are currently no known PFAS impacts to drinking water supplies at or near Griffiss AFB.  Of current concern is that the AF has not yet indicated that it will conduct PFAS sampling at the former base boundary, which was previously requested by EPA.   Also of concern is that the results from the SI indicate that 2 creeks have been impacted by PFAS contamination.  Additional follow-up sampling of the creeks will eventually need to be conducted, as the creeks flow past the former base boundary.  Also, AFFF areas up-gradient of the Mohawk River were impacted by PFAS contamination.  This will require further investigation of those areas and possibly of the Mohawk River.

Numerous other studies and investigations have been carried out by the Air Force to locate, assess and quantify toxic and hazardous waste storage, disposal and spill sites. As a result of numerous cleanup actions conducted by the Air Force to protect human health and the environment, under current conditions at the site, potential or actual human exposures are under control. The site’s long-term cleanup is ongoing.

Groundwater at portions of the base has been contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including trichloroethene (TCE), dichloroethene (DCE), and vinyl chloride. Soil at various locations has been contaminated with heavy metals, including lead, chromium, and barium, as well as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Munitions wastes from a former small arms range and munitions storage areas have also contaminated soils at the former base. Contamination in the form of leachate from the landfills, discharges from old storm sewers, and accidental spills have contributed to contamination of the creeks. PCBs and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) have been found in Three Mile and Six Mile Creeks. Pollutants from these sites may be harmful to wildlife and aquatic populations. People who touch or accidentally ingest contaminated soil may suffer adverse health effects. Contaminant migration in groundwater and surface water has been studied and addressed on a base-wide level with respect to the potential for negative impacts on nearby human and ecological receptors, including off base groundwater users. Under current conditions, there is little to no risk to human health from contaminated groundwater at the base, as groundwater is not currently used as a drinking water supply. Approximately 95 percent of the local population now obtains water from the City of Rome municipal water supply system. However, exposure could occur if property transferees or their tenants were to install drinking water wells on their property. Additional studies were also conducted related to potential health risks due to soil vapor intrusion (SVI) of VOCs into buildings.

Since the late 1980s, the Air Force has completed preliminary assessments (PAs), site investigations (SIs) and remedial investigations (RIs) at over 80 sites at the base. This includes extensive sampling and analysis of soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment.

Cleanup of hazardous waste contamination at the base has been addressed through a series of removal and remedial actions by the Air Force, with oversight by the EPA, NYSDEC and NYSDOH. To date, Records of Decision (RODs) have been signed for 39 areas, or operable units (OUs), at the base. Each one addresses a particular site, contaminant source or media. One additional ROD is planned. Several RODs called for remedial actions. The Air Force has completed remedial actions at five of those sites (the base landfills). Remedial actions at several other sites are ongoing.

Several RODs called for no further action. These were typically in response to the successful completion of prior removal actions by the Air Force. In addition, several RODs called for land use controls/institutional controls (LUC/ICs), rather than active remedies. About 2,900 acres of the former base has been taken off the National Priorities List.

The remaining 600 acres of the former base will remain on the National Priorities List, and continue through the Superfund cleanup process to completion. All property at the site has been transferred to outside parties. Prior to transfer, the EPA, NYSDEC and NYSDOH reviewed property transfer documents in accordance with Superfund requirements for the transfer of federal property, and provided the necessary approvals as required under the Superfund law. For the transfer of parcels at which cleanup had not yet been completed, the approval of the Governor of New York State was also obtained.

Finally, additional areas of interest (AOIs) have also been identified. Most of these sites have been evaluated, investigated and determined to require no further work. However, two AOIs were classified as areas of concern (AOC)s. The ROD for the AOC 9 site was approved in September 2010. The source of contamination was removed, and in-place treatment of groundwater contamination is currently ongoing. The Air Force is currently performing a pilot study to address soil vapor intrusion concerns at one additional building at the site.

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

Because the base was realigned and closed under the federal BRAC program in 1993 and 1995, property at the base has been returned to the community for reuse through a series of transfers to outside parties.  As a result, the former base is currently occupied by many different types of entities, including industrial, commercial and residential facilities and a large portion of the former base is now operating as Griffiss International Airport.  

Current and future property owners are bound by any land use controls/institutional controls (LUC/ICs) in their property deeds until their removal is approved by the Air Force, EPA, and NYSDEC.  The Air Force conducts an annual LUC/IC survey covering all former Air Force property containing LUC/ICs, re-contacting all applicable property owners, and requesting that they fill out a new questionnaire each year.  The Air Force also conducts inspections of each property.  The results are then compiled by the Air Force into an annual report that is reviewed by the Air Force, EPA, NYSDEC, and NYSDOH.  Any violations of the LUC/ICs are then addressed with the landowner(s) by the Air Force and regulatory agencies.  
 

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Sampling and Monitoring

Since the late 1980’s, the Air Force has conducted Preliminary Assessments (PAs), Site Investigations (SIs), and Remedial Investigations (RIs) at over eighty sites at the base. This includes extensive sampling and analysis of soil, ground water, surface water and sediment.  Detailed information on all of these studies, as well as long-term sampling and monitoring still being conducted at the base, is available at the Administrative Record for Griffiss AFB, located at http://afcec.publicadmin-record.us.af.mil/.

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Enforcement Information

The EPA placed the site on the Superfund Program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in July 1987. The Air Force used its Department of Defense (DoD) Installation and Restoration Program (IRP), originally established in 1978, to address hazardous waste investigations and cleanup activities at sites placed on the EPA NPL. Under an inter-agency (Federal Facilities) agreement (FFA) signed by the Air Force, the EPA, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) in June 1990, the framework for investigation and cleanup was outlined. The Air Force is the lead agency for these activities, and oversight of the program is provided by the EPA, NYSDEC, and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH).

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