Read the full article by Rebecca Patterson & Scott Faber (Bloomberg Law)

“Military service members and their families are especially at risk from forever chemicals because of the DOD’s 50-year use of fire-fighting foam made with PFAS. Vietnam Veterans of America’s Rebecca Patterson and Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber say Congress needs to help accelerate the cleanup of legacy PFAS contamination in installations and reduce ongoing exposures.

The toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS contaminate the blood of virtually every American. These chemicals have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, harm to the reproductive system, and harm to the immune system.

Americans are exposed to dozens of PFAS every day. Because PFAS never break down and build up in our blood and organs, they are often known as ‘forever chemicals.’

Military service members and their families are especially at risk. The DOD’s 50-year use of fire-fighting foam made with PFAS, also known as aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), has disproportionately exposed them to PFAS pollution.

Contaminated Groundwater

The DOD has so far confirmed PFAS in the tap water or groundwater at 328 military installations, and the DOD suspects that hundreds of additional installations are likely to be contaminated. Until recently, PFAS contaminated the drinking water of dozens of military bases, and many communities near these installations continue to drink contaminated water.

Many of the highest PFAS detections in the nation have been found on or near the DOD installations. In particular, reported PFAS levels surpassed 1 million parts per trillion (ppt) at 14 installations, far above the 70 ppt level recommended by the EPA. Tests taken at one base in Louisiana exceeded 20 million ppt.

While PFOA and PFOS, the most well-known PFAS, are commonly found at the DOD installations, other PFAS associated with AFFF also contaminate groundwater on and near military installations, including PFHxS and PFBS. Like PFOA and PFOS, these chemicals have also been linked to serious health problems.

The DOD worked with 3M to develop PFAS-based AFFF in the 1960s, and some DOD officials were alerted to the risks of AFFF in the early 1970s, when Navy and Air Force studies first showed AFFF was toxic to fish. In the early 1980s, the Air Force conducted additional animal studies on AFFF that found toxic effects.

By 2000, when the maker of PFOS, the main ingredient in AFFF at that time, exited the market, the risks of AFFF were well understood. In 2001, a DOD memo concluded that PFOS in AFFF was “persistent, bioaccumulating and toxic’…”