A Central Coast water board on Friday expanded an investigation at the Santa Maria Public Airport to determine how significantly firefighting chemicals have contaminated the soil, and whether groundwater has been impacted.
The Central Coast Water Quality Control Board is requiring a supplemental site investigation into how deep per- or polyfluoroalkys, also known perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS), chemicals have penetrated the soil, according to a July 16 letter sent to Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria Public Airport District.
Matthew T. Keeling, the board's executive officer, said in the letter that the information is necessary to determine what clean-up actions will be needed. Hastert and board officials did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
"The Central Coast Water Board needs the required information to determine the extent of PFAS-impacted media to ensure the protection of groundwater and human health," Keeling wrote. "The Airport District is required to submit this information because the Airport District is the current property owner and, as indicated by available data, it is responsible for the discharge."
Levels of chemical agents tied to health problems were detected in soil and groundwater samples taken from the Santa Maria Public Airport in March, according to a preliminary state investigation report released on June 1.
The PFAS chemicals, which are linked to cancer, were discovered in samples, including water not used for drinking, at the airport in March 2020 and showed that levels were "high," although a state official in June 2020 indicated the results were preliminary.
The chemicals are manufactured by companies such as DuPont. They're considered "forever chemicals" due to their widespread occurrence and tendency to accumulate in nature.
The substances are contained in aqueous film-forming foam, which is stored onsite at the airport and is used by the Santa Maria Fire Department to put out aircraft fuel fires.
The foam was used at least twice in the past: including once for a hangar fire and for a runway fire involving a small plane that landed without extending its landing gear, according to an investigative report provided to the board June 1, 2020.
The report followed a March 20, 2019, order from the board to investigate levels of the chemicals at the airport.
During a Dec. 16, 2020 conference call, board officials agreed to a work plan provided by the Airport District that will include soil analysis, but added that more testing may be required, according to the letter.
The board approved the work plan under several conditions, including that the soil samples are tested by a California laboratory accredited by the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program and that the report be submitted no later than Nov. 16, 2021.
The cost of preparing the report is estimated between $130,000 and $150,000, and the Airport District faces a potential fine of $1,000 for each day the report is overdue, according to the letter.
The full letter can be viewed at geotracker.waterboards.ca.gov.
In 2015, the Department of Defense identified several Central Coast military installations for potential PFAS testing, including Vandenberg Space Force Base, where military officials discovered PFAS levels in groundwater which were not considered a "significant risk to the public," according to a board report dated Nov. 14, 2019.