UPDATE: Toxic 'Forever Chemicals' Likely Contaminate More Than 700 Military Sites

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

WASHINGTON – More than 700 Department of Defense sites are likely to be contaminated with the fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, according to new data released this week by the Pentagon.

The Defense Department identified 34 new installations where PFAS chemicals are suspected, bringing the total number of installations where PFAS has been confirmed or suspected to 704. The list of additional installations can be found here.

States with newly disclosed sites include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Most of the new sites are Army ammunition plants and depots.

One of the sites, Fort McPherson, Ga., is being used by filmmaker Tyler Perry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, the Defense Department testified that more than 600 installations could be contaminated with PFAS, which have been linked to cancer, liver damage and harm to the reproductive and immune systems.

Following those revelations, EWG developed a map tracking all of the suspected and confirmed cases of PFAS contamination at military sites.

The Pentagon’s use of firefighting foam made with PFAS, also known as aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, is the primary source of PFAS pollution at military installations.

EWG has so far confirmed PFAS in the tap water or groundwater at 328 military sites. Until recently, PFAS contaminated the drinking water of dozens of bases, and many communities near these installations continue to drink contaminated water.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, EWG also discovered that many of the highest PFAS detections in the nation have been found on or near military installations.  

Within Defense Department documents, EWG found evidence of PFAS detections in groundwater at 14 installations that were above 1 million parts per trillion, or ppt, far above the 70 ppt drinking water advisory level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Defense Department has failed to treat PFAS pollution with the urgency service members and their families rightly deserve,” said EWG’s Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “We’ve all known for decades that PFAS are toxic, but the Defense Department is still trying to understand the scope of the problem.”

Defense Department officials have understood the risks of AFFF since the early 1970s, when Navy and Air Force studies first showed the firefighting foam was toxic to fish; since the early 1980s, when the Air Force conducted its own animal studies on AFFF; and since the early 2000s, when the maker of PFOS, the main ingredient in AFFF, exited the market. In 2001, a Defense Department memo concluded that the main ingredient in AFFF was “persistent, bioaccumulating and toxic.”

“The Pentagon waited a decade to warn service members and has been slow to switch to PFAS-free alternatives to AFFF or clean up legacy PFAS pollution,” Faber said. “What’s more, some military officials have argued for cleanup and screening levels that are less protective of our service members and their families than those proposed by EPA.”

“In light of these new revelations, Congress should do much more to accelerate the cleanup of legacy PFAS contamination,” said Faber. “To do so, Congress should increase funding for programs like the Defense Environmental Restoration Program and designate PFAS as hazardous substances under EPA’s Superfund program, which will ensure that PFAS manufacturers pay their fair share of cleanup costs.”

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