600,000+ Service Members Given ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Drinking Water

The Department of Defense has greatly underestimated the number of people exposed to dangerous levels of toxic, harmful “forever chemicals,” and downplayed the exposure risk. 

More than 600,000 service members were given water with potentially unsafe levels of toxic forever chemicals.

A new Environmental Working Group analysis found that “forever chemicals,” known as PFAS, were given to more than half a million service members at 116 military installations. 

An internal Department of Defense study conducted in April concluded the Pentagon served unsafe water containing the two most notorious forever chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to 175,000 members a year at 24 installations. 

The number of service members served contaminated water may be even greater than EWG’s estimate, which relies on a review of publicly reported water system tests and DOD records.  

That study only counted service members at installations served water with levels of PFOA and PFOS greater than 70 parts per trillion, or ppt. But the agency in June tightened that level, to less than 1 ppt.

The Department of Defense’s analysis did not include drinking water that was purchased from local water utilities or from privatized water systems located on the base. These may also have been contaminated with forever chemicals. 

The assessment has not been published by the DOD on its public PFAS website. This made it virtually unavailable to the public or to service members. It was only available by request. 

The study also failed to explore the effects forever chemicals have on pregnant women and unborn children, including an estimated 13,000 servicewomen, as well as family members living on the installations. Exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy and childhood is linked to numerous health harms. 

PFAS chemicals are used in industrial products such as lubricants and hydraulic fluids and consumer use in non-stick cookware, food wrappers, cosmetics, and stain repellents. 

Synthetic substances are a key ingredient in aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, used by military firefighters to combat ship and aircraft fires. Runoff of AFFF from training and operations is the main source of contamination at and nearby U.S. military bases.

They are aptly named “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and are impossible to destroy by any currently available method, although research is underway.

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