Read more on Pat Elder’s project

“I drove across the country with my daughter Holly last week to draw attention to the reckless behavior of the military as it continues to poison the waters of America. 

We billed our trip, “The Million Parts per Trillion Tour” because we stopped at eight extremely contaminated bases, all with more than a million parts per trillion (ppt) of deadly Per and Poly Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the groundwater. 

We worked with The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S. and Civilian Exposure from Camp Lejeune, NC. 

PFAS is found in the aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) the military uses to extinguish massive fires during routine training exercises. The carcinogens are allowed to leach into groundwater and sewer water. PFAS is also found inTeflon products and other consumables. It is known as the “forever chemical” because it never degrades in the environment. It is the poison that poisons forever.

The former England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana was the most severely contaminated place we visited, with 10,970,000 parts per trillion of PFAS in the groundwater. We saw impoverished communities served by well water near that base. The press is silent, and people don’t know they’re being poisoned. Not a single soul we spoke to during our tour knew of the issue. Just 2 of 200 (mainstream, for profit) news agencies we contacted reached out to us, although they never ran a story. 

The most minute traces of PFAS adversely affect women’s reproductive health and cause a variety of cancers. More than a third of all Americans may have PFAS-contaminated drinking water. Harvard public health scientist say exposure of 1 ppt of PFAS is detrimental to human health.

Throughout the country, the military is claiming it is free to continue using the foams and poisoning American communities. They say the chemicals are not regulated by the EPA or the Department of Agriculture so it’s OK to use them. Generally, the DOD refuses to pay for cleaning up the contamination or providing alternative drinking systems, aside from a few instances where they’ve provided bottled water to unfortunate souls.  

Throughout the country the military claims that individual states lack the “jurisdictional authority” to force compliance with state environmental laws. The DOD claims “sovereign immunity” from state environmental regulations. 

The military’s potential financial liability is astronomical, and this partially explains the EPA’s steadfast refusal to institute a Minimum Contaminant Level (MCL) for the substances. Doing so would unleash a flood of litigation against the military here and around the world, particularly in Germany where the issue is gaining traction.

Curiously, our trip has led us to focus on what we don’t know.The DOD has been testing thousands of individual wells, but in many communities they’re not publishing the results. We don’t know how far the wells the­­­y tested were located from the routine discharges of PFAS on base. We don’t know how far the deadly plumes have travelled from bases. We don’t know how deep the private wells were. We don’t know how deep the military’s wells were. We don’t know how precise their measurements were. Experts tell us the military is performing tests that are designed to miss small, yet potentially harmful amounts of the contaminants.We are witnessing a nightmare scenario in which state and federal regulatory agencies are at a standstill while the military, which continues using the toxins, is the lead agency in ascertaining the extent of the contamination and protecting human health.The age of assuming the water is safe to drink in America is over. Don’t drink groundwater and don’t drink municipal water until you’re satisfied it is not contaminated with PFAS.”