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The Pentagon released a report last July saying that at least 385 military installations across the country were polluted with PFAS, the group known as “forever chemicals'' because they don’t break down and can bioaccumulate in animals and humans.
These endocrine disruptors have been linked to a long list of health problems including cancer, kidney malfunction and low birth weight and are found in everything from firefighting foam to stain-repellent carpets to cosmetics and fast food wrappers.
The contamination on military bases largely stems from a long-running Department of Defense (DOD) requirement that military bases use aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) that contain fluorine, despite its well-documented harms. Military firefighters and trainees use it to extinguish jet fuel and petroleum fires.
Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York have some of the highest levels of contamination detected by the DOD.
In North Carolina, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro have high PFAS concentrations. The PFAS level at Camp Lejeune is 240 to 3,400 times higher than the limit for PFAS exposure is 70 ppt (parts per trillion); concentrations at Johnson Air Force Base is 312,000 ppt.
Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson are also contaminated with jet fuel, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, pesticides, and chlorinated solvents, which worsens toxic exposure to those stationed there. The DOD could take up to five years to fully evaluate the health risks PFAS contamination poses to military members and their families stationed there and decades for the EPA to complete the base’s cleanup. But it is already clear that the high concentration of PFAS threatens the safety of the nearly 140,000 marines, sailors, retirees, their family members and civilian employees who live on or near Camp Lejeune.
"If you are relying on well water and are near one of these bases where PFAS has been confirmed in the groundwater, you should be concerned," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs, in a CBS News report. "And you should be doubly concerned if you are near one of the hundreds of bases where PFAS is suspected but not confirmed."
Because the potential water contamination also has an impact on crops and livestock, congress ordered the DOD to notify farmers within a mile downstream of a potentially contaminated base. The agency reportedly alerted 2,100 farms near 95 of these bases that their irrigation water may be contaminated with PFAS. But an Environmental Working Group analysis of that data revealed that 36 Army, Air Force and Navy bases with some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination have failed to warn nearby farmers as instructed.
The problem of farming contamination has already significantly harmed or shut down operations in a number of places across the country, including Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan and Wisconsin. But that’s still just the tip of the iceberg since PFAS has been so widely used and few farms have been tested for contamination.