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“Thousands of military firefighters were trained at Air Force bases across the country to spray firefighting foams made with toxic and carcinogenic PFAS chemicals (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances). The foam was believed to be a fast and effective tool to fight complex liquid fuel fires.
Military installations used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in fire-fighting training and fire suppression systems throughout their bases. This allowed PFAS carcinogens to leach into the groundwater. The Department of Defense (DOD) has found 678 military sites where the groundwater or drinking water was contaminated by hazardous chemicals.
PFAS compounds are man-made. They contain strong carbon-fluorine chains and have unique properties: They are water-soluble, have low volatility, and are resistant to biodegradation. These properties make them an effective firefighting tool, but also hazardous to humans and the environment. PFAS compounds can persist over several decades in the human body and water. They are linked to multiple types of cancerous tumors and other diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) biomonitoring program shows that PFAS are widely found in the U.S. water supply and nearly all Americans have the chemicals in their blood. That’s why they’re sometimes called ‘forever chemicals.’
Cancer at military bases
DOD has known of the potentially deadly health problems PFAS can cause since the 1970s, but it has continued to use them. The department even conducted its own studies which confirmed that PFAS poses a serious risk to human health.
Despite the information DOD had on AFFF, military firefighters were not informed of the risks posed by PFAS chemicals until 2015, more than 40 years after the department first knew of the potential harms.
Military firefighters were required to use AFFF, even though they faced serious risks. What’s more, DOD failed to ensure they had protective gear and directed them to simply spray the foam on the ground, disregarding the pollution risk to drinking water.
Now studies show that firefighters have elevated levels of PFAS in their blood. Reports across the nation inform that drinking water pollution, especially near military bases, is on the rise. Also on the rise are immune diseases, kidney and testicular cancer rates, and other serious illnesses in individuals, particularly children, living on or near military installations.
Many of these increases are correlated with the chemicals of the PFAS family. Harvard public health professionals say that even one part per trillion (ppt) of PFAS in drinking water is potentially dangerous…”