Read the full article by Sonner Kehrt (The War Horse)
“When Doris Brock’s husband was diagnosed with stage four bladder and prostate cancer in 2015, his urologist asked him if he’d served in Vietnam. The cancer, the doctor said, was similar to what he’d seen in Vietnam veterans, who’d been exposed to toxins like Agent Orange.
The answer was no—Kendall Brock hadn’t been to Vietnam. But he had served for 35 years as a member of the Air National Guard at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, retiring as a chief master sergeant. Two years after his diagnosis, he passed away at the age of 67. Doris Brock thought about all the chemicals he’d been exposed to during his career in aircraft maintenance: trichloroethylene, PD-680, different types of solvents.
‘PFAS was like at the very back of my mind,’ Brock says.
PFAS stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a large group of human-made chemicals that are ubiquitous in manufacturing. These compounds are everywhere: inside our homes, lining the packaging of our food, woven into the clothing we wear. PFAS exposure has been linked to multiple cancers and other health concerns, including decreased fertility and immune dysfunction. Some of the highest concentrations of PFAS chemicals in the country have been found at and around military bases, in large part because of the military’s longtime reliance on the firefighting foam AFFF—PFAS are active ingredients.
Pease Air Force Base had already been designated a superfund site before it shut down in 1991. But in 2013, groundwater sampling also found high levels of PFAS at the former base, which led to the closure of its well. Brock realized that, on top of working with carcinogenic chemicals, her husband had been drinking and showering in contaminated water for years.
The military has started to phase out AFFF, but accumulated chemicals are difficult to remove. The Environmental Working Group has found likely PFAS contamination at at least 704 current and former military bases across the country, a number that generally aligns with the Defense Department’s own assessments. The cost of cleanup could reach billions of dollars. Acknowledging the extent of contamination and beginning remediation efforts have been slow, and advocates like Brock say the military should be doing more to address the problem and care for the families who have been affected by it.
‘If you think that you’ve drank the water, and washed in it, and ate food that you cooked in it, for years and years—and you know about this—it’s pretty scary,’ Brock says. ‘It’s scary as hell.’
‘We’re talking a thousand times more toxic’
Just this month, the EPA released new acceptable exposure limits for two common PFAS, lowering the limit from the previous 70 parts per trillion to just .002 and .04 parts per trillion—more than a thousand times lower. Of the hundreds of military installations where the Defense Department has identified high levels of PFAS contamination, multiple sites contain more than one million parts per trillion, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. That’s tens to hundreds of millions of times higher than the EPA’s new standards.”…