Dangerously high levels of the toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS have been detected in the drinking water of communities near Department of Defense installations.
Data released last week by the DOD found high levels of PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS and other PFAS in the areas near military bases in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington.
The detections were found near Whiting Field Naval Air Station, Fla.; Camp Grayling Army Airfield, Mich.; Willow Grove Naval Air Station, Pa.; Mechanicsburg Naval Inventory Control Point, Pa.; Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Wash.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord – Yakima Training Ground, Wash.; and Bremerton Naval Base, Wash.
“These levels are extremely high,” said EWG Policy Analyst Jared Hayes. “For too long, service members and people living in communities near military installations have been the victims of the Pentagon’s failure to act.”
DOD installations are required to provide water filters or connect nearby residents with public water supplies if PFAS levels exceed 70 parts per trillion, an advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
PFAS have been confirmed in the groundwater of nearly 400 military installations and are suspected to be present at hundreds of other installations. Pentagon officials understood the risks posed by PFAS for decades but failed to warn service members or their neighbors.
It is promising that the DOD is beginning to make data available because greater transparency is critically important for impacted communities.
To date, the DOD has been slow to clean up PFAS pollution, which is caused primarily by the use of firefighting foam made with PFAS.
In the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the DOD to end the use of foam made with PFAS, and Defense Department officials testified on Thursday that a more effective, PFAS-free foam will soon be available.
Last year, Congress provided more than $200 million for PFAS cleanup efforts at military installations and directed the DOD to provide a cleanup schedule by the end of October.
“If DOD officials continue to drag their feet, Congress must act to protect service members and military communities,” Hayes said. “Thanks to new resources and deadlines, the department has run out of excuses for its failure to protect us from toxic PFAS.”
The EPA is expected to lower the advisory level for PFOA and PFOS in the coming months and to set advisory levels for two other PFAS commonly found on military installations. The EPA has also pledged to set a mandatory drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS by the end of 2023.
PFAS are a large family of fluorinated chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, immune system damage and other serious health problems. PFAS contaminate the drinking water of an estimated 200-plus million people.