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Pentagon Admits It Undercounted Sites Contaminated by Forever Chemicals

Monday, December 16, 2019

Pentagon officials have admitted that the number of military bases contaminated by forever chemicals has been previously understated. Forever chemicals are perfluorinated compounds and are named as such because they do not break down. Once absorbed, they can build up in the blood and tissues and have been linked to certain cancers and birth defects.

The chemicals are used in firefighting foams when battling aircraft and ship fires. “The Defense Department worked with 3M to create fluorinated foams and has known it was toxic for decades but failed to alert service members or clean up legacy pollution,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs.

Investigators at the Colorado Department of Health found significantly increased rates in bladder, lung, and kidney cancer in the same areas as the PFAS water contamination. Their investigation was prompted by suspected exposure to PFAs near the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Mark Favors, a former Army Specialist whose family lives near the base, can count 16 cases of cancer in his family, including 10 deaths, 5 of which were due to kidney cancer. Peterson is one of the locations recently found to have tested significantly above the EPA’s recommended PFAS or PFOA exposure limits.

The shocking impact of exposure to these chemicals elevates the importance of the Pentagons recent findings. Not only is the number of military installations and adjacent communities likely contaminated with toxic fluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, higher than previously disclosed, but the pentagon cannot even confirm how badly it miscounted contaminated sites. “We think there are probably more installations, and I’m not ready to tell you what that number is, but we found that we undercounted,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon said.

The EPA has released a draft that would make the standards for acceptable contamination much more stringent. The new draft says that further investigation must be pursued if the PFAS and PFOA are 40 parts per trillion. The current threshold is 70 parts per trillion. Advocacy groups claim that no amount of contamination is safe. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit based in D.C., says that 1 part per trillion is the maximum safe level, based on independent studies.

Robert McHahon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, says that the Department of Defense is continuing to identify locations with potentially harmful levels of chemicals but that the locations of these sites will not be shared until the number of them is concrete. “As part of this process, we think there are probably more installations, and I’m not ready to tell you what that number is, but we found that we under-counted,” McMahon told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon.

McHahon is also pushing for transparency with the local communities in which investigations are being held. Commanders are being instructed to begin a dialogue on the DoD’s PFAS investigation.

As the number of potentially harmful military sites will likely grow, a clear understanding of the efforts that will be taken to rectify the situation remains to be seen.

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