Across 43 states, over 610 sources of drinking water contain chemical contaminants that are likely causes of cancer, infertility, birth defects, and worsened immune systems in children, Washington, D.C.-based news agency McClatchyDC reports.
The findings emerge from a new Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University database that compiled Pentagon data from last year and public water utility report documents. The experts estimate that water containing per-and polyfluoroalkyl-substances (PFAS) affect more than 19 million people.
While researchers were previously aware of PFAS contamination in military drinking water sources in bases around the country, the new database reveals hundreds more contaminated drinking water sources than known before.
“This is a national crisis and it requires a national response,” said vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit dedicated to improving the environment and public health, Bill Walker.
PFAS, common compounds found in items like fast-food packages and non-stick cookware, are highly concentrated in the foam used to fight fires in ships, military bases, and commercial airports for several decades.
As a result, communities near military bases report exponentially higher levels of PFAS than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended maximum exposure level of 70 parts per trillion.In the state of Washington, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island water sources contained 58,000 parts per trillion. California’s Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake reported 8 million parts per trillion.
Lack of regulations mean that the military is not required to clean up contaminated groundwater or wells, and there is no standard to which they are held accountable. Cleanup could cost more than $2 billion, according to a Pentagon estimate.
Areas far from military bases are still affected by PFAS contamination. The Miami Dade Water and Sewer Authority reported 43 parts per trillion of PFAS in the city’s water supply.
“We believe that is way too high,” said Walker. Exposure levels at even the 1 part per trillion mark puts individuals at risk of adverse health outcomes, the EWG has found, and the lack of a reasonable standard puts Miami residents at risk.
“Because there is no legal requirement to continue monitoring for these chemicals, the residents of Miami don’t know if the PFAS contamination has remained the same, gotten better or gotten worse over the last three years,” said EWG toxicologist Alexis Temkin.