Military sees surge in sites with 'forever chemical' contamination

Military sees surge in sites with 'forever chemical' contamination
© Greg Nash

The military now has at least 651 sites that may have been contaminated with cancer-linked “forever chemicals,” a more than 50 percent jump from its last tally.

The information was released Friday in a report from the Department of Defense (DOD), part of a task force designed to help the military remove a class of chemicals known as PFAS from the water supply near numerous military bases.

PFAS, used in a variety of household products as well as an “AFFF” fire fighting foam relied on by the military, has been deemed a forever chemical due to its persistence in both the environment and the human body.

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The military has been under increasing pressure to clean up contaminated sites, previously estimated to be as many as 401 locations. Each of those sites where PFAS may have been used must still be evaluated to determine whether it's been contaminated, as well as the extent of the exposure.

“This report also makes it clear that we are still learning the full extent of the impact on our communities. The identification of over 250 new sites where PFAS was potentially released is astonishing,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Energy: Military sees surge in sites contaminated by 'forever chemicals' | USDA closes office wing due to coronavirus | Watchdog raises concerns over Trump energy regulator Military sees surge in sites with 'forever chemical' contamination Stock market plunge should incentivize firms to develop a coronavirus cure MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

“It is critical that the department provide communities with timely assessment of these sites, communicate transparently with impacted households, and quickly act to protect civilians and service members alike from these forever chemicals.”

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis An insecure America and an assertive China Overnight Defense: Pentagon grapples with coronavirus outbreak | Aircraft carrier docks in Guam after more sailors test positive | Army hospitals to reach NY on Friday MORE started the PFAS task force on his first day in office in July. 

“We must approach the problem in an aggressive and holistic way, ensuring a coordinated DOD-wide approach to the issue,” Esper wrote in a memo establishing the task force.

The 651 figure is current as of October and includes only sites where DOD is known to be the source of PFAS contamination. 

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The military has provided bottled water and filters to the affected areas and is prepared to ramp up blood testing for DOD firefighters that regularly apply firefighting foam.

“No one — on or off base — is drinking water above EPA’s [health advisory] level of 70 parts per trillion [ppt] where DoD is the known source of PFOS and PFOA,” the agency wrote in the report, referring to guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, those voluntary EPA standards are in the process of being replaced with a mandatory drinking water regulation —something that may fall below the 70 ppt currently being used by DOD.

Many critics have argued that the 70 ppt figure is too high to protect health and have advocated for setting the standard at a lower number, following the move of many states who have more aggressive PFAS regulations than the federal government.

Updated 5:09 p.m.