In 2014, PFAS contamination forced the closure of one of three underground water wells that supplied drinking water to an international airport and business park in the US city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Prior to becoming a booming economic hub, it was the site of a former US Air Force (USAF) Base, where aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, was used in firefighting training and to extinguish a fuel fire. This same site is also where Wood first deployed a first-of-its-kind sustainable treatment for successfully tackling PFAS.

For 35-years, until it closed in 1991, Pease Air Force Base was the 4,255-acre home of B-52 Bombers and the US Strategic Air Command’s 509th Bomb Wing, during the Cold War. Because of longtime use of AFFF at that site, and other former bases, the USAF contracted Wood to inventory areas where the foam was used. When concurrent sampling of a public water well underneath the airfield detected elevated levels of unregulated PFAS, we were asked to step in to further understand the specifics.

The challenges sparked by that discovery grew exponentially due to the sheer number of community stakeholders involved, including businesses, a community college, children’s daycare facilities, and 10,000 workers. Government regulators were also pushing for swift and aggressive action.

From the beginning of the project, Wood locally partnered with and advised the USAF. Our number one goal was to get our client into compliance with regulatory and community expectations. We brought in our subject matter experts, including engineers, geologists, construction managers, and operators, to evaluate and implement the technologies, treatments and PFAS sciences to ensure the best solution.

In six years, more than 300 specialists from across Wood have advised on the project – to not only triage the immediate problem, but also to understand the extent of the issue and protect the aquifer. We also collected 4,500+ groundwater samples and built two innovative groundwater treatment plants, which we continue to optimise and monitor. Today, we still provide community stakeholder support. All combined, the accelerated pace of the project accomplished what would normally take 10-to-20 years to complete. The work was also done on property that was neither owned nor controlled by our client, requiring substantial coordination and engagement with the local redevelopment authority.

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Land and Emergency Management recognised the project with its Federal Facility Response Outstanding Achievement team award, for the comprehensive efforts taken to protect public health, as well as the Pease and Newington communities. The citation noted “extraordinary efforts” were taken to ensure construction of the two groundwater treatment systems, which treat upwards of 350 million gallons of contaminated groundwater annually. This is one of many examples where Wood continues to unlock solutions to the world’s most critical issues.