Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Detected in Drinking Water at N.Y. Army Installations

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Detected in Drinking Water at N.Y. Army Installations

Friday, September 13, 2019

WASHINGTON – Drinking water supplies at seven Army installations in New York state are contaminated with elevated levels of toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, according to newly released Department of Defense data obtained by EWG under the Freedom of Information Act.

The sites in New York include Fort Drum, Camp Smith, West Point Military Reservation, Gerry Reserve Center, Horseheads Armory, Stewart Air National Guard Base and SSG Frederick J. Ill Jr. Army Reserve Center.

The detections occurred between 2016 and 2018. Several sites were contaminated with multiple members of the class of toxic chemicals. Some PFAS have been linked at very low doses to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm, thyroid and kidney disease, and other health problems.

Nationally, the data provided through the FOIA added 90 current and former Army and Army National Guard installations to the list of locations that are contaminated with PFAS chemicals. They raise the number of Army installations with known PFAS contamination of drinking water or groundwater from 18 to 108, and the total number of military installations with known contamination from 207 to 297.

Click here to see the complete list.

Two of the newly listed New York sites were contaminated with levels of PFAS above the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, or ppt. The levels of PFAS detected in the water at Fort Drum were 110 ppt, and for Camp Smith, 80.6 ppt. At West Point, the detection was 55 ppt, just below EPA’s health advisory level.

But the EPA’s advisory level is 70 times higher than the 1 ppt safe level found by some independent studies and endorsed by EWG. Some states have set limits ranging from 11 ppt to 20 ppt.

Compounds detected in the drinking water at both locations included the two most notorious PFAS chemicals – PFOA, once used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Both were phased out under pressure from the EPA after studies found links to cancer, harm to the reproductive and immune systems, and other health problems.

PFAS chemicals have been detected in the drinking water of 19 million Americans in 49 states, and unreleased EPA data show that up to 110 million people may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water.

“The men and women who serve at these installations and people who live nearby should be concerned about the presence of these highly toxic chemicals in the drinking water,” said EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “These chemicals are linked to very serious health problems, including cancer and liver damage. They accumulate in our bodies and they do not break down in the environment. Filtering the water can be a short-term fix, but the only way to tackle this contamination crisis is for Congress to act.”  

In June, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which contains a number of critical PFAS monitoring and cleanup amendments. Included was one that requires the Pentagon to phase out, by 2023, the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam and require military facilities to meet state cleanup standards. 

In July the House passed its version of the act, with several PFAS amendments, including one that would designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law. Negotiators from the House and Senate are hammering out a final version of the defense spending bill. EWG is pressing lawmakers to include all of the PFAS amendments in the bill Congress sends to President Trump for his consideration.

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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.