PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
NAVAL AIR STATION FALLON
(a/k/a FALLON NAVAL AIR STATION)
FALLON, CHURCHILL COUNTY, NEVADA
ATSDR has communicated with community members who live near NASF and has documented specific health concerns related to the activities at NASF. A Community Information Fair was held on August 21 and 22, 2001, at the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority, in Fallon, Nevada, to provide an opportunity for community members to discuss health and site-related concerns with ATSDR staff as well as other state and federal agencies involved with the Fallon childhood leukemia investigation. ATSDR identified the following community concerns regarding contamination and health effects associated with NASF from the site visits, the Community Information Fair, and other site-related activities.
- Concern about the possible contamination of drinking water supplies.
ATSDR has identified the primary sources of drinking water for NASF, the city of Fallon, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. Groundwater beneath NASF is not used as a source of drinking water. The NASF drinking water wells and the city of Fallon municipal wells are screened in the Fallon basalt aquifer which has not been impacted by site-related contaminants. These drinking water wells are upgradient from NASF and the depth to the basalt aquifer is more than 500 feet below ground surface. Arsenic, which is naturally occurring in the Fallon area, continues to be detected above EPA's safe drinking water standard. The city of Fallon, NASF, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe are addressing this issue by constructing a water treatment plant designed to remove arsenic. The plant is expected to be in operation by the beginning of 2004. There are some private drinking water wells to the east of the station boundary. However, monitoring wells near the station boundary have not contained any site-related contaminants that have exceeded ATSDR's CVs.
- Concern about air contamination from fuel jettisoning.
Several members of the community in the vicinity of NAS Fallon have expressed the concern that fuel jettisoned from Naval aircraft might be a potential cause of illnesses in the community. There is a perception that fuel is routinely jettisoned by aircraft prior to landing. According to U.S. Navy operations guidelines, this is not the case. Jettisoning typically occurs when an emergency landing is required. The fuel is released in order to decrease the potential for an explosion or fire during an urgent or emergency landing.
The U.S. Navy Operational and Training Manual for General Aircraft Operations (OPNAV Instruction 3710, January 1997) states that: "Whenever practicable, fuel shall not be jettisoned (dumped) below an altitude of 6,000 feet above the terrain. Should weather or emergency conditions dictate jettisoning at a lower altitude, every effort shall be made to avoid populated areas. When under positive control, the pilot in command should advise the air traffic control facility that fuel will be jettisoned."
As mentioned above, jettisoning is not a common occurrence at NASF or other military air bases. Even during urgent or emergency circumstances, to the extent allowed by the situation, procedures must be followed to minimize exposure to the greatest extent possible given the circumstances. Additionally, jettisoning of fuel close to the ground can produce turbulent conditions that could cause the aircraft to become difficult to control and increase the likelihood of a crash. For these reasons, standard procedures do not recommend jettisoning of fuel close to the ground.
Table 6 lists the actual jettisoning events that have occurred at NAS Fallon between 1986 and 2001 (Rybold, 2001). The jettisoning incidents occurred when mechanical or electronic problems created dangerous operating conditions increasing the potential for an accident upon landing. The amount of fuel jettisoned were, in all cases, relatively small and occurred over undeveloped and unpopulated areas, specifically Salt Wells Flat (also known as Salt Wells Basin or Eight Mile Flat) and bombing ranges B-17 and B-20, located from 10 to 30 miles from the city of Fallon. These locations are depicted in Figure 7. It should be noted that these locations are not upwind from the city of Fallon, making it unlikely that ground fall would move toward the city.
U.S. Air Force research on ground fall of jettisoned fuel (i.e., JP-8) found much of the jettisoned fuel evaporates and remains in the atmosphere long enough to be dissipated. This research also found that ground temperature is an important factor in determining the amount of fuel that will reach the ground. At ground temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius(30º C) (86º (F)) less than one percent of JP-8 jettisoned at 3000 feet above ground level (agl) will reach the ground. At 0º C (32º F) approximately 25 percent of the fuel will reach the ground (AFESC, 1981). The balance of the jettisoned fuel becomes entrained in the atmosphere for an indefinite period of time. Without specific knowledge of the speed of the aircraft, the flight path and meteorological information such as wind speed and direction, and humidity, it is not possible to determine precisely how much fuel would have reached the ground during specific jettisoning events. However, the jettisoning occurred over areas down wind and removed from the city of Fallon and did not occur over residential areas. It is unlikely that people were exposed to the limited amount of jettisoned fuel that would reach the ground in these areas.
At NASF, whenever fuel jettisoning occurs, an on-site inspection is conducted of the area. This inspection includes soil sampling if fumes or other fuel-related products are observed, is conducted by explosive ordnance personnel. To date, no evidence of fuel contamination has been discovered. Additionally, the base routinely tests the shallow water aquifer (218 monitoring wells are located at NASF and periodically tested) and conducts routine testing of the three drinking water wells according to the schedule required by the Source Water assessment Program. To date, no fuel related chemicals have ever been discovered in off-base property or in the drinking water supply (Naughton, 2001).
Members of the Fallon community have expressed concern that jettisoning occurred more frequently and at lower altitudes than reported in Table 6. ATSDR can not determine what was actually observed, there are several phenomena that might be mistaken for jettisoning.
Figure 8 depicts an aircraft actually venting fuel. The venting is believed to be the result of an accidental overfill during refueling. However, the visual effect is the same as jettisoning (personal communication, Jeff Kellam, from Jet Safety, July 7, 2002) . The visual effect is similar to that of a vapor trail except that a vapor trail can extend for a considerable distance, even horizon-to-horizon, whereas a jettisoning event lasts for a few seconds and will likely leave a much shorter visible trail.
When viewed from a distance, other types of emissions may be mistaken for fuel jettisoning. Figures 9 - 12 are photographs of military aircraft, collected from various military websites. While these were not taken from aircraft at NASF, each depicts phenomena that might be mistaken for fuel being jettisoned. These phenomena include; exhaust plumes, vapor trails, heat plumes, and the firing of flares. Exhaust plumes are the smoke fumes that are similar to those that are emitted by any internal combustion engine. Vapor trails are streams of water vapor that are condensed from the air by the increased air pressure created by the aircraft moving through the atmosphere. These are the contrails that are commonly seen trailing many aircraft such as commercial airliners. A heat plume is created by the variation of density of the heated emissions of an aircraft engine. The difference in density between the heated exhaust and the cooler air creates the wavy pattern behind the aircraft. These wavy patterns are similar to the 'heat waves' seen above paved roads during hot weather. The firing of flares may be mistaken for jettisoning if observed from a distance, but would only be seen over the training ranges. These flares are defensive measures taken by military aircraft in combat and are used to 'confuse' antiaircraft weapons that target the heat of the aircraft engine.
Because fuel jettisoning is a very rare event and does not typically occur over populated areas, ATSDR has determined that fuel jettisoning at NAS Fallon does not present a public health hazard.
- Concern about leaks in the Fallon jet fuel pipeline that provides JP-8 fuel to NASF.
ATSDR has prepared a separate public health consultation (HC) that addresses the issue of whether jet fuel releases are likely to have occurred along the Fallon jet fuel pipeline that delivers JP-8 fuel to NASF (ATSDR 2002). The HC provides a description of the history, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of the pipeline, and evaluates any potential pathways for human exposure. Based on this evaluation, ATSDR concluded that the Fallon jet fuel pipeline does not pose a past, current, or likely future public health hazard. The Fallon Jet Fuel Pipeline HC was released for public comment and is on-line at ATSDR's web-site: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/fallonpipe/fallon_toc.html
- Concern about any potential exposures from chaff materials that are used by the Navy.
Community members have voiced concern about possible public health risks associated with the Navy's use of chaff at NASF. Chaff is a metallic material consisting of aluminum-coated glass fibers. Chaff fibers typically are 25 microns (m) thick and between 1 and 2 centimeters long (Naval Research Laboratory 1999). The primary elements in chaff are aluminum and silicon--two of the most abundant naturally occurring elements in the earth's crust. It is used by the military to confuse radar signals, which allows aircraft to operate without easily being detected.
Part of NASF's mission is to conduct training operations that accurately simulate wartime conditions. Air crews at NASF complete chaff deployment training missions and other training exercises which result in the release of approximately 50,000 chaff canisters or bundles per year. At NASF, most of the chaff is released at 15,000 to 20,000 feet above ground level over an area covering approximately 10,000 square miles. Each canister of chaff contains approximately 2.1 million fibers and weighs about 1.5 ounces. This is equivalent to approximately 2 ½ tons of chaff fibers released annually. Once released into the atmosphere, the dispersion of chaff and its ground concentrations depend on such conditions as temperature, humidity, wind directions and speed, release altitude, aircraft speed, and topographic features (Tetra Tech, Inc. 1998; Naval Research Laboratory 1999) In general, chaff is released at high altitudes, drifts over very large areas, and is greatly dispersed before falling to the Earth's surface.
Based on the site-specific information presented above, 2 ½ tons of chaff fibers released each year over 10,000 square miles would result in an annual average PM10 or PM2.5 concentration of 0.018 µg/m3. This is far below the NAAQS of 50 µg/m3 for PM10 and 15 µg/m3 for PM2.5. To provide some perspective, annual average background PM10 concentrations range from 6.4 µg/m3 in northern California and Western Nevada to 20 µg/m3 along the east coast. The lowest background PM2.5 concentrations, which are typically found in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and northern Arizona, are around 3 µg/m3. The PM10 or PM2.5 concentrations that would result from chaff at NASF would be much lower than average background concentrations found across the U.S.
A Chaff Survey was conducted by the Navy between December 1994 and January 1995. The survey area covered approximately 107 acres at the Electronic Warfare Range, which is approximately 25 miles east-southeast of NASF. The survey did not find any observable effects of chaff debris in vegetation, wildlife, soils, or water within the survey area (Tetra Tech 1998). Although the Navy survey did not evaluate human health impacts associated with the inhalation of chaff fibers, a recent report issued by the U.S. Air Force did not identify any studies that found chaff to contribute significantly to particulate matter or any EPA criteria pollutants in the atmosphere (USAF 1997). In addition, a panel of independent experts from academic and research institutes concluded that chaff fibers are too large to be inhaled into the lungs and are, therefore, not of health concern for inhalation exposure (Naval Research Laboratory 1999). Based on a review of the scientific literature and recent evaluations at other sites, ATSDR concludes that the usage of chaff at NASF does not pose a public health hazard.
- Concern about any potential exposures from depleted uranium that may have been used by the Navy.
Navy records report that ordnance containing depleted uranium has not be used at NASF. According to NASF information, some of the aircraft used in training at NASF could be equipped to fire the types of ordnance that contain depleted uranium. Training with DU must be specifically authorized on designated DOD targets. There are no authorized targets within the Fallon Range Training Complex and DU does not appear on the list of approved ordnance for the Fallon ranges. No record exists of DU ever being authorized or used in the Fallon Range Training Complex or of expended DU ever being encountered during range clean up. (Electronic communication, Captain B.T. Goetsch, Commanding Officer NASF, February 26, 2002).
- Concern about elevated tungsten detected in biological sampling conducted by NSHD and CDC.
Elevated levels of tungsten were found in the biological sampling of case and control families in the Fallon area. At present there is no established causal link between tungsten and leukemia. The NSHD, CDC and ATSDR are continuing to evaluate tungsten in the environment in the Fallon area. This evaluation will include drinking water sampling, and possibly, ambient air sampling.
ATSDR recognizes that infants and children may be more sensitive than adults to environmental exposure in communities faced with contamination of their water, soil, air, or food. This sensitivity is a result of the following factors: (1) children are more likely to be exposed to certain media like soil when they play outdoors; (2) children are shorter and therefore may be more likely to breathe dust, soil, and vapors close to the ground; and (3) children are smaller than adults and therefore may receive a higher dose of chemical exposure relative to their body weight. Children also can sustain permanent damage if exposed to toxic substances during critical growth stages. ATSDR is committed to evaluating children's special interests at sites such as NASF as part of its public health assessment process.
ATSDR evaluated the likelihood that children living at or near NASF may have been or may be exposed to contaminants at levels of health concern. Based on the most recent NASF estimates, there are 84 children under the age of 18 years living in NASF housing on site. There are no schools or daycare facilities on site. The on-site family housing area (i.e., Fairview Housing) does not border any of the IRP sites. Although most of the IRP sites are not in close proximity to the family housing, Site 1 is approximately 2,500 feet from the Fairview Housing area. As a conservative safety measure, ATSDR recommended that a fence be installed around the "biopile" located within Site 1 to minimize any potential for exposure. In July 2002, a fence was placed around the "biopile" at Site 1. In addition, a contract has been approved to remove, treat, and dispose of the contaminated soil at an off-site approved disposal facility (Brown 2002). Based on available data, information from NASF personnel, and the site visit to NASF, ATSDR did not identify any situations where children were likely to be exposed to contaminants at levels which pose a health concern.
After evaluating available environmental data and available toxicologic and medical information, ATSDR has reached the following conclusions regarding media- and site-specific exposure pathways. ATSDR concludes that there are no past, current or future public health hazards presented by exposures to NASF-related contaminants in the environment.
- As long as the groundwater is not used for drinking, exposure to on-site groundwater at NASF poses no past, current, or future public health hazard. Although fuel and some solvents released to the environment have resulted in areas of groundwater contamination at NASF, groundwater beneath the station has never been used as a source of drinking water. Moreover, according to NASF representatives, there are no current or future plans to use groundwater at NASF for drinking water or other domestic purposes (e.g., showering or cooking).
- Exposure to off-site groundwater poses no past, current, or future public health hazard. The only inorganic substance that has not met state and federal safe drinking water standards is arsenic. Arsenic, which is naturally occurring in the Fallon area, has been detected at levels that exceed EPA's maximum contaminant level, which is currently 10 ppb. A treatment plant designed to remove arsenic is being constructed for the city of Fallon, NASF, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and is expected to be in operation by the beginning of 2004. NASF, most Fallon residents, and members of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe obtain their drinking water from off-site wells which draw water from the Fallon basalt aquifer. These wells have not been impacted by site-related contamination because they are at least 2 miles northwest of any NASF source areas, the wells are upgradient from NASF, and the depth to the basalt aquifer is more than 500 feet below ground surface. All past monitoring tests have met state and federal safe drinking water standards for VOCs, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and pesticides.
- Exposure to surface water and sediment at NASF poses no past, current, or future public health hazard. Site-related contaminants have not been detected at levels that could present a public health concern. Permanent surface water features at NASF are limited to the irrigation ditches and drainage canals. These have not being used for recreational purposes (e.g., swimming, fishing, boating) on site. Therefore, any potential exposures to on-site surface water or sediment would be very infrequent, of short duration, and not of public health concern.
- Exposure to off-site surface water and sediment poses no past, current, or future public health hazard. Low levels of fuel-related contaminants and metals have been detected in drainage canals on site. These contaminants are not present at levels of health concern and any exposure to off-site residents or other individuals would likely be of short duration.
- Exposure to soil contamination at NASF poses no past, current, or future public health hazard. NASF is gated and access is restricted to all but authorized personnel. Soil contamination is limited to a small number of source areas on site. Some of the IRP sites that contain contaminated soil are not fenced. However, security procedures effectively limit access. Therefore, any exposures to soil contaminants would likely be infrequent and of short duration.
- Exposure to air contamination at NASF from stationary sources did not pose a past public health hazard and does not pose a current or future public health hazard. NASF's air quality impact analysis results showed that the predicted concentrations of EPA criteria pollutants (i.e., CO, NOx, PM10, SO2) from stationary sources at NASF do not exceed the national ambient air quality standards. Meteorological data shows that prevailing winds are from the west, from the direction of the city of Fallon toward NASF and therefore generally serve to blow any contaminants away from the town. In addition, recent air monitoring data for the Fallon area from EPA's AIRS database showed that PM10 concentrations for the Fallon area were well below EPA's national ambient air quality standards.
- The potential exposure by members of the Fallon community to jet fuel and emission byproducts is not expected to be sufficient to result in cancer or non-cancer public health effects. As described above, meteorological data shows that prevailing winds are from the west, from the direction of the city of Fallon toward NASF and would therefore generally serve to blow any contaminants away from the town. A toxicological evaluation of jet fuel and emission byproducts, and the screening model for dispersion of emissions suggest that exposure to emissions from airplanes (commercial and military) in the Fallon, NV area is not likely to be responsible for the leukemia reported in the community. The potential exposure by members of the Fallon community to jet fuel and emission byproducts is also not expected to be sufficient to result in non-cancer public health effects. Screening model analyses of emissions from NASF aircraft found that estimated ambient air concentrations for all pollutants considered were either below health-based comparison values or reasonably consistent with levels routinely measured in small communities and suburban locations across the United States.
Groundwater investigations at NASF have indicated that contamination is confined to the shallow aquifer beneath NASF. Most private wells in the Lahontan Valley are screened in the intermediate aquifer and would not be impacted by NASF contamination of the shallow aquifer. There are a small number of private residences to the south and east of NASF that use shallow aquifer wells. Monitoring wells near the station boundary have not contained any site-related contaminants that have exceeded ATSDR's CVs. Since, boundary wells have not contained contaminants at levels above ATSDR's CVs, it is not expected that private wells have been impacted by site-related contaminants.
Based on the conclusions about potential exposure pathways at NASF, ATSDR makes the following recommendations.
- As a conservative safety measure, ATSDR recommended that NASF fence off the area that contains the "biopile" at Site 1 (Crash Crew Training Area) until a permanent plan is in place to remove the contaminated soil and transport it to a long-term storage facility. Although it is unlikely that children or station personnel are coming into direct contact with soil contaminants at levels of concern from the biopile, fencing would eliminate any possibility of exposure. The Navy informed ATSDR that a fence was installed around the biopile in July 2000 and a plan is in place to remove the contaminated soil at an off site disposal facility.
- ATSDR recommends that NASF continue to conduct routine annual testing of boundary monitoring wells in the vicinity of the plumes on the east and south to ensure that site-related contaminants are not migrating off site.
- If site-related contaminants are detected off site to the east or south of the station, ATSDR recommends that NASF determine whether any of the private wells in the vicinity of NASF are used for drinking water and test those wells as appropriate.
- As a conservative safety measure, ATSDR recommends that NASF continue to routinely sample the drainage canals at the point where they exit the base, and analyze for specific petroleum and jet fuel constituents (e.g., benzene, toluene, xylenes) to verify that fuel constituents are not migrating into these canals and off-site.
The public health action plan (PHAP) for NASF contains a description of actions to be taken by ATSDR and other government agencies at and in the vicinity of the site upon completion of this PHA. The PHAP is designed to ensure that this PHA not only identifies public health hazards, but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. The plan includes a commitment on the part of ATSDR to follow up and ensure that the plan is implemented. The public health actions completed and to be implemented are as follows:
- A bioslurper system for the removal of free product (i.e., petroleum hydrocarbons) was installed at Site 1 in 1996 and has removed approximately 900 gallons of free product. The system is not currently operating because of very low production rates.
- A bioslurper system for the removal of free product at Site 2 was installed in 1993.
- ATSDR has prepared a public health consultation which evaluates the potential exposure to fuel from the Kinder-Morgan pipeline supplying fuel to NASF.
- The U.S. Geological Survey has collected and analyzed water samples from the faucets from the homes of both the leukemia families and the control families which were evaluated in the NSHD and CDC studies. Analyses included (but were not limited to) those necessary to detect arsenic and tungsten.
- The city of Fallon has conducted analyses of drinking water from the public water facility. Analyses included (but were not limited to) those necessary to detect arsenic and tungsten.
- A contract for the remediation of Site 1 contaminated soils was issued in 1998. NASF was using an experimental form of remediation which involves collecting contaminated soil and forming a large pile. The contaminated pile of soil, referred to as a "biopile", is injected with bacteria that are designed to breakdown the organic contaminants. According to NASF officials, the technology did not reduced the concentrations of VOCs and other organics as much as expected, and NASF plans on removing the contaminated soil from Site 1.
- A research project headed by the U.S. Air Force has been completed at Site 1 to evaluate the anaerobic dechlorination of chlorinated compounds in the groundwater.
Ongoing and Planned Actions
- ATSDR is currently developing a multifaceted evaluation of environmental conditions in the Fallon area that may have an impact on public health, particularly as related to the leukemia cluster. Evaluations to be conducted will include an area-wide evaluation of naturally and non-naturally occurring chemicals in drinking water, groundwater, soil, air, surface water and sediment.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting a cross-sectional exposure assessment of selective contaminants using environmental (household) and biologic specimens for leukemia case-families to compare with a reference population.
- Groundwater contamination identified during previous investigations at Site 2 is expected to be assessed as part of the intrinsic remediation assessment for IRP sites at NASF.
- Free product removal is ongoing, as necessary, at Sites 2, 6, 14, and 16.
- Groundwater monitoring at the six primary sites where groundwater plumes have been identified continues to be conducted by NASF under the intrinsic remediation assessment.
- NASF has initiated a pilot study that would include the installation of more than 100 injection and/or extraction wells at Sites 1 and 14. The current study includes: 1) the evaluation of anaerobic bioremediation for treating groundwater contaminated with dissolved solvents; 2) aerobic bioremediation for treating groundwater contaminated with dissolved fuel hydrocarbons; 3) air sparging for removing dissolved solvents and fuel hydrocarbons; and 4) above ground treatment of pumped groundwater containing dissolved solvents and/or fuel hydrocarbons using air stripping technology.
- A treatment plant designed to remove arsenic is being constructed for the city of Fallon, NASF, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and is expected to be in operation by the beginning of 2004. This facility is intended to supply water for domestic purposes to NASF for the foreseeable future. Water from the facility will be sampled and analyzed under requirements of the Safe Water Drinking Act.
- NASF continues to work closely with the community and the state in coordinating the exchange of information about activities that may be related to the leukemia cluster in Fallon.
Jeffrey Kellam, MS
Environmental Health Scientist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Gary Campbell, Ph.D.
Environmental Health Scientist
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Karl Markiewicz, Ph.D.
Federal Facilities Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
Len Young, MS
Eastern Research Group
John Wilhelmi, MS
Senior Chemical Engineer
Eastern Research Group
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