Plumes of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” originating from at least 245 US military bases are currently contaminating or posing a potential threat to the drinking water of nearby communities.
A recent report from the Department of Defense highlights the alarming extent of this pollution, and the situation may worsen as further investigations unfold.
The Department of Defense has, so far, only examined about one-third of the more than 700 facilities suspected of PFAS contamination. While the report acknowledges the pollution, it lacks crucial details about which drinking water sources are affected, the extent of PFAS levels in these water systems, and the precise locations of the plumes.
The sheer number of military bases involved and the lack of clarity in the report have raised concerns within the environmental community. Scott Faber, the vice-president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that monitors military PFAS pollution, expressed his dismay, stating, “A good neighbor would let you know that their use of PFAS was the reason your water was contaminated, and a bad neighbor would only tell you: ‘Hey, a plume is heading in your direction.'”
It’s worth noting that the Department of Defense has not responded to requests for comment from the guardian on the matter, leaving many questions unanswered.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, consist of approximately 15,000 compounds often used to make products water, stain, and grease-resistant. These chemicals have been linked to serious health issues, including cancer, birth defects, high cholesterol, kidney disease, and more. They are notoriously known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily degrade in the environment.
The US military is considered one of the world’s major PFAS polluters, largely due to its use of firefighting foam containing these chemicals, which are released during emergencies or training exercises. Groundwater around military bases has been found to have some of the highest PFAS levels ever recorded, with concentrations far exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe limit of one part per trillion (ppt) in drinking water.
Recent legislative measures have required the military to investigate PFAS pollution in and around its facilities. According to the new report, the Department of Defense has confirmed PFAS contamination at 455 bases, and of those, about 90% have plumes in the proximity of drinking water supplies. However, the report does not specify what “in the proximity” means, nor does it detail the types of drinking water supplies under threat. This is particularly concerning, as some communities rely on surface water or community wells, and it remains unclear how these plumes may affect those drawing water from private wells.
Scott Faber emphasized the frustration of affected communities, stating, “Communities around the facilities must be really frustrated because they, in all likelihood, are drinking from wells that are contaminated by the military, but the DoD is coming up short.” He also pointed out that the military is required to provide clean drinking water to communities with PFAS levels above 70 ppt, but the EPA is proposing to lower this legal limit to 4 ppt, which would likely necessitate clean water provision for most, if not all, affected communities.
As the military continues to uncover PFAS pollution in and around its sites, there remains a concern regarding the decreasing budget allocated for the remediation of pollution at its bases. The situation demands further investigation and increased transparency to ensure the health and well-being of the affected communities.