The Defense Department is reporting high levels of toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water near several of its bases, according to new data released by the department.
Drinking water testing near bases in Washington state, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan found levels of the chemicals well above a health threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
PFAS is the name for a group of thousands of chemicals, some of which have been linked to health issues such as kidney and testicular cancer and liver damage. The substances have been used in products such as firefighting foam, which is used by the military. For this reason, PFAS can be found near military bases and can contaminate nearby water.
They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they build up in the human body and environment instead of breaking down over time.
While it has long been known that PFAS have leached into groundwater near military installations, the new data provides an official glimpse into how it is impacting nearby drinking water.
While the EPA has said that levels of two types of PFAS called PFOA and PFOS should not exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt) — and states have called for even lower levels — findings at some of the bases far exceed that.
One assessment from October found a sample of drinking water near the Naval Air Station at Washington State’s Whidbey Island contained 4,720 ppt of PFOS. In September, a sample containing 208 ppt of PFOA was detected.
Meanwhile, a drinking water sample near Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord Yakima Training Center was found to have 800 ppt of PFOS in January. A separate sample from January at the base was found to have 130 ppt of PFOA.
A sample from near Pennsylvania’s Willow Grove base was found to have 864 ppt of PFOS in October.
An August sample from around Florida’s Naval Air Station Whiting Field was found to have 206 ppt of PFOA in August. A sample from December was found to have 130 ppt of PFOS. A November sample from Michigan’s Camp Grayling Army Airfield was found to have 119 ppt of PFOA.
“These levels are extremely high,” Jared Hayes, policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.
“For too long, service members and people living in communities near military installations have been the victims of the Pentagon’s failure to act,” Hayes added.
A Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment. but the findings note that where PFOA or PFOS levels exceeded the EPA’s advisory as a result of department activities, the DOD “immediately took actions to address the drinking water exposure.”
The department was required to disclose the drinking water testing under fiscal 2022’s National Defense Authorization Act.