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Report reveals major problem at more than 200 US military bases: 'Hundreds more [communities] are likely at risk'

The Department of Defense said it "has responded quickly with short- and long-term actions."

The Department of Defense said it “has responded quickly with short-and long-term actions."

Photo Credit: iStock

A new report from the Department of Defense has revealed that at least 245 military bases in the United States have been leaching toxic chemicals into the drinking water of nearby communities, putting an unknown number of people at risk.

What is happening?

The DOD report confirmed that at least 455 military bases are contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) and that 275 out of 295 bases checked had released those chemicals "in the proximity" of drinking water supplies. 

PFAS, commonly known as "forever chemicals" because of their inability to naturally degrade, "have been linked to cancer, birth defects, decreased immunity, high cholesterol, kidney disease and a range of other serious health problems," per the Guardian.

The military is one of the largest polluters of PFAS in the world, in part due to its use of a firefighting foam that is filled with the chemicals and is released during emergencies and training exercises.

Why is this concerning?

"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,'" Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs at nonprofit the Environmental Working Group, told the Guardian. 

Faber also called the lack of clarity around the issue "shocking." As the report looked into only around one-third of the more than 700 military facilities suspected of contaminating groundwater, there are likely many more cases.

"Hundreds more [communities] are likely at risk across America," the Guardian wrote.

What is being done about it?

The U.S. military is subjected to a low level of public oversight, so the next steps are very opaque, leading to concern from the communities impacted and advocates such as Faber.

The DOD report writes that "DOD is committed to cleaning up our PFAS releases as quickly as possible," although it does not offer any specifics or timeframe. It also writes that it "is committed to mitigating PFAS in the drinking water it supplies, as well as addressing releases to the environment resulting from DOD activities" and that it "has responded quickly with short- and long-term actions to ensure that no one is drinking water with PFOS or PFOA above 70 ppt."

This is likely small comfort to any community near a U.S. military base, but Faber told the Guardian that he is hopeful more answers will come. "Inevitably we will get answers for these questions as we move through the process," he said.

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