WASHINGTON – Environmental Working Group today published a map of 305 military installations that used the firefighting foams made with the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, which have likely contaminated drinking water or ground water on or around the bases.
These are sites where the military conducted crash or fire training, which under military regulations used the PFAS-based foams called Aqueous Film-Forming Foam, or AFFF. Of these sites, 138 have not been previously identified on EWG’s map of known PFAS contamination at military bases, civilian airports and industrial sites. In addition, 42 of these sites were not included on a list of 401 locations the Pentagon gave to Congress of active and former installations where PFAS contamination was known or suspected.
The Pentagon’s use of PFAS-based firefighting foams was first reported in a groundbreaking 2015 investigation by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept.
A top Defense Department official recently admitted that there were more PFAS-contaminated sites than previously identified.
“[W]e 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 last month, according to the Military Times. He said the department would name the sites when it verifies the number and locations.
The likely source of PFAS contamination on and near Defense Department installations is the use of firefighting foams, which the Pentagon helped develop in the 1960s. The Pentagon has known since the 1980s that PFAS is toxic but failed to alert service members or residents of communities near potentially contaminated bases.
“The Defense Department worked with 3M to create AFFF, has known it was toxic for decades and now has the responsibility to clean up legacy pollution,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs.
In the annual defense spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020, Congress has now directed the Pentagon to phase out the use of fluorinated foams on military bases and in training exercises.
However, the bill failed to include a provision to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the Superfund cleanup program.
Without that key provision, the Pentagon will not be required to take the necessary steps to clean up the contamination at these and potentially many other installations around the country. The Pentagon has cited the absence of the Superfund designation in refusing to clean up polluted sites, and has also fought to weaken cleanup standards.
“It’s clear that the military is failing to take responsibility for PFAS pollution, and that the extent of PFAS pollution on or near military bases is much bigger than has been disclosed,” Faber said. “The bill has failed to ensure that the Defense Department clean up legacy PFAS pollution and falls short of what’s needed to protect American military service members and nearby communities.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.