High levels of toxic and widely used “forever chemicals” contaminate groundwater around at least six military sites in the Great Lakes region, according to US Department of Defense files an environmental group released on Tuesday .
The environmental working group said, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have seeped into the Great Lakes and pose a risk to people who eat fish contaminated with chemicals.
Pentagon documents show that at least 385 military installations nationwide are polluted with PFAS, mainly from the fire-fighting foam widely used in training exercises, the group said.
“If you are relying on well water and find yourself near one of these bases where PFAS has been confirmed in groundwater, you should be concerned,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president government affairs. “And you should be doubly concerned if you find yourself near any of the hundreds of bases where PFAS is suspected but not confirmed.”
Asked for comment, a Pentagon spokesperson referred to remarks by Richard Kidd, Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience, during a July 14 public debate on PFAS. Kidd said it would take “years to fully define the cleaning requirements the department faces, and possibly decades before that cleanup is complete.”
“We intend to make sustained progress on all PFAS related challenges,” Kidd said, adding that the cleanup costs were estimated at $ 2 billion.
A review of departmental records showed that PFAS was detected at levels up to 213,000 parts per trillion at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Mich., Which closed in 1993, a said the working group on the environment.
State officials discovered the contamination in 2010. The Air Force is treating groundwater contaminated with PFAS at some sites in the region, but local residents and members of Congress have called the actions insufficient and have demanded a stronger and faster approach.
The environmental group said its study found high values at five other Great Lakes bases.
The combined levels of PFOA and PFOS, two of the most commonly used chemicals in the group, reached as high as 1.3 million ppt at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in Niagara County, New York.
Further readings included 135,000 ppt of the PFHxS compound at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee; 82,000 ppt of PFOA and PFOS at Alpena County Regional Airport in Michigan; 17,000 ppt of PFOS at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mount Clemens, Michigan; and 5,400 ppt from PFHxS at Duluth International Airport in Minnesota.
The Biden administration is developing national standards to trigger cleanings of PFAS in drinking water and groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency currently has a non-binding health advisory level of 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA for drinking water.
PFAS compounds, first developed in the 1940s, are used in a variety of commercial and household products ranging from non-stick cookware to food packaging and water-repellent clothing. Foam containing PFAS has long been used to extinguish jet fuel fires.
The compounds are called “eternal chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment or the human body and can build up over time. They have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, liver damage, and decreased fertility.