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No problems found, but Air Force to test MacDill water for pollution

Air Force environmental health inspectors will visit MacDill Air Force Base this summer to test whether groundwater contains potentially harmful chemicals found in a widely used firefighting foam.

The presence of the chemicals, called perfluorinated compounds, falls within accepted health standards because none were detected in MacDill's drinking water, according to the Air Force, which is conducting similar tests at bases around the nation.

But the inspection will test groundwater at the base in areas where aqueous film-forming foam was used, according to Laura McAndrews, an Air Force spokeswoman.

So far, more than 200 installations have been tested and the Air Force is taking some form of cleanup action at about 20 of them.

MacDill officials say if any problems are found on the base where some 42,000 people live and work, they will take corrective action.

"It is our priority to ensure there is safe drinking water sources for our service members," said Senior Airman Tori Long, spokeswoman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base's host unit.

Studies on animals show the chemicals disrupt normal endocrine activity, reduce immune function, damage organs including the liver and pancreas, and cause developmental problems in offspring, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Data from some human studies suggests the chemicals may also damage human health, according to the institute, while other studies found no conclusive links.

When it comes to the chemicals, the Air Force says it isn't taking any chances.

If tests show Air Force operations produced chemical levels above those outlined in an Environmental Protection Agency health advisory, the service will immediately take action, McAndrews said.

This could include an alternate drinking water source, a filtration system, and providing bottled water, McAndrews said. If the chemicals are detectable but fall below the health advisory level, the Air Force may conduct well monitoring to track changes and determine if further action is needed.

For years, aqueous film-forming foam has been a top choice of leaders in military and civilian aviation to fight petroleum-based fires.

McAndrews said the Air Force has awarded a $6.2 million contract to replace firefighting foam used in fire vehicles to reduce the risk of possible contamination of soil and groundwater.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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