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Environmental restoration summits promote whole-of-government response

Air Force environmental restoration summits promoting whole-of-government response to emergent contaminants

Air Force, federal and state environmental restoration personnel meet at the Air Force Eastern Regional Environmental Restoration Summit in Chicago, July 23-24, 2019. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center reintroduced the summits - an eastern, western and central - in 2016 in an effort to strengthen relationships between the agencies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Malcolm McClendon)

CHICAGO (AFNS) --

Partnering, communication and protecting human health against an emergent contaminant, were common topics heard throughout the Air Force Eastern Regional Environmental Restoration Summit in Chicago, July 23-24.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, which provides environmental remediation support to Air Force headquarters, major commands and installations, reintroduced the three annual summits--eastern, western and central--in 2016. The goal was to strengthen relationships among the Air Force and state and federal environmental restoration personnel.

“We all have the same goal, to protect human health,” said Kenny Johnson, Restoration Division chief for AFCEC’s Environmental Directorate. “Before we began to host these summits, interaction with the regulators was limited, which led to misunderstandings and even contentious relationships. Now we’re all talking the same language and finding new ways to accomplish our goals.”

Johnson said now the agencies can look into the future of environmental restoration together and have a unified response specifically to the emerging contaminants, perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid.

“We’re moving forward in our response actions for PFOS/PFOA, making sure those affected have safe drinking water, but we have to be prepared for the next steps,” Johnson said. “Together with the EPA, Army and Navy representatives, we met today with a private industry partner to help us find innovative ways to develop standards for PFOS/PFOA in other-than-drinking water in an effort to remediate all groundwater.”

PFOS/PFOA were found in the aqueous film forming foam formerly used by the Air Force and civilian airports to combat petroleum-based fires and in a variety of substances used in daily life, anything from cook wear to water-repellant spray. The EPA set a lifetime health advisory for the contaminants in drinking water and since then, the Air Force is taking aggressive measures to ensure the community is safe and find long-term solutions.

Due to the contaminants wide-spread use, Senior Air Force leaders advocate for a whole-of-government approach to address PFOS/PFOA contamination.

Chris Swain, Maine Department of Environmental Protection Federal Facilities program manager, said these summits will play a key factor in that endeavor.

“Absent these types of opportunities where we can communicate regularly, there’s no way we’ll be able to address these emergent contaminants in a time frame that the public demands we deal with them,” Swain said. “These summits really help develop us into full partners and I look forward to the work we will do together.”

Johnson looks forward to all the new ideas and innovative approaches the partnerships will yield from future summits and has already begun to look into some.

“I’d like to invite academia into the equation; there are some great research capabilities at universities that can help us with this national problem,” Johnson said. “These summits are allowing us to explore these types of opportunities and really embody that whole-of-government approach, and I’m excited about that.”

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