Harmful firefighting chemicals found in 126 base water supplies

Matt Saintsing
June 11, 2018 - 4:15 pm

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lukas Kalinauskas

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A recent Pentagon study reveals that 126 active and closed installations across the military have reported harmful levels of chemicals in their water supplies.

In March, the Defense Department provided a full report to the House Armed Services Committee and found that 401 active and Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) installations in the U.S. had at least one area known or suspected to contain perfluorinated compounds.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOAs are man-made chemicals used to make equipment heat or water resistant. They are found in everything from everyday household items to clothing, and even some food products.

But on military installations, they are found in the foam used to fight aircraft fires.

“It’s an issue not just in New Hampshire, but at military installation across this country,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) at a Capitol Hill hearing related to the Air Force’s 2019 budget.

“We have 1,500 people who have been tested with elevated levels in the Portsmouth area, who are anxious about their future and their children’s future. And I know there are many people throughout the Air Force and our other military installations who share that concern.”

In total, 25 Army posts, 50 Air Force bases, and 49 Navy and Marine Corps bases have tested at higher than acceptable EPA levels for the chemicals found in either ground or drinking water, as has two Defense Logistics Agency sites.

When DoD tested 2,668 groundwater wells both on bases and in the surrounding communities, they found that more than 60 percent of them tested above EPA’s recommended levels.

The EPA established a new, lower-threshold guides for acceptable levels of PFOS or PFOA levels in water supplies in 2016: 70 parts per trillion. But the agency failed to make the new guidelines enforceable.

Even still, DoD has taken it upon themselves to test all of its locations to try to comply with the newer standards.

Families and active duty troops alike can go to the base’s restoration program manager, who is tasked with dealing with environmental cleanup issues, to answer their questions.

While the military is working through these issues, cleanup will take years. The groundwater sites that tested above acceptable levels will be added to the DoD’s growing list of environmental responsibilities it has as nearly 3,000 facilities worldwide.

Cleanups are being prioritized on risk, to ensure the most impacted areas will be the first to get relief.

The full list of affected installations can be found at the end of the lengthy congressional report.

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