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126 bases have water contamination linked to cancers and birth defects, Pentagon finds

A small sea of fire retardant foam was unintentionally released in an aircraft hangar, temporarily covering a small portion of the flight line at Travis AFB, Calif., Sept. 24, 2013. The non-hazardous foam is similar to dish soap, and eventually dissolved into liquid, which was helped by high winds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ken Wright/Released)
May 02, 2018

The Pentagon has found that the water at or around 126 military installations across the country contains potentially harmful chemicals that have been linked to cancers and birth defects, Military Times recently reported.

The March report provided to the House Armed Services Committee documented the full scope of the contamination for the very first time. The report indicates that the Department of Defense found 401 active and Base Closure and Realignment installments in the U.S. with at least one contaminated area consisting of perfluorinated compounds.

In total, 25 Army bases, 50 Air Force bases and 49 Navy or Marine Corps bases have all tested at high levels for the compounds in either the drinking water or ground water sources. The Defense Department also tested an additional 2,668 groundwater wells on-site and in surrounding communities, and found 61 percent that tested above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended levels.

The list included 36 sites with drinking water contamination on base, and at least 90 sites that reported either on-base or off-base drinking water or groundwater contamination.

The water sources that were tested indicated “greater than acceptable” levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOA. The man-made chemicals are found in everyday household items including some food and clothing, and are utilized to make items heat or water resistant.

However, on military bases, the chemicals are found in the foam used to put out aircraft fires.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Maureen Sullivan said the Defense Department is hard at work enacting changes at the affected bases.

Sullivan confirmed that water filters and bottled water have been provided to families living on the bases. A complete list of affected areas was also released to the public, and the Defense Department plans on working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) next year to study any potential long-term affects of the chemicals.


Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stressed that the Defense Department is doing everything it can in order to remedy the situation, but the various water systems are owned and controlled by other entities that will need to implement their own fixes.

“It’s up to the owner of that system to make a decision on what they’re going to do,” Wilson said. “So we’re on a fine line of trying to provide drinking water to our folks when we’re buying it from somebody else.”

For now, Wilson said the Defense Department has “cut off that human exposure as soon as possible” to 36 direct drinking water sources. The rest of the locations will continue to rely on filters and bottled water until the controlling parties or local government take the appropriate action.