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Timeline of events for contamianted military bases

October 2023 - Plumes of PFAS flowing from at least 245 U.S. military bases are contaminating or threatening to pollute the drinking water of nearby communities, and hundreds more are likely at risk across the country, a new Department of Defense report finds. While the report acknowledges the pollution, it does not clarify which drinking water sources are polluted, how high "forever chemicals" levels are in the polluted water systems, or provide information about the plumes' locations.

September 2023 - According to new research funded by the U.S. government, women exposed to PFAS appear to face a higher risk of ovarian and other types of cancers, including a doubling of odds for melanoma. PFAS may disrupt hormone functions specific to women, which is a potential mechanism for increasing their likelihood of developing hormone-driven cancers, the researchers determined. Hormonally active cancers are difficult to cure, making deeper inquiry into potential environmental causes essential. Researchers also found a link between PFNA exposure and uterine cancer.

August 2023 - The Department of Defense identified 58 additional military sites with confirmed PFAS detections in drinking water and groundwater for a total of 455 sites where the chemicals have been detected. Concerns about potential contamination remain at 255 military bases, bringing the total number of sites where PFAS have been confirmed or suspected to 710. Among the top 20 locations with newly reported "forever chemicals" detections, five are in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor, located eight miles west of Honolulu, had two sites with detections exceeding 2 million parts per trillion. The five military sites are:

  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam
  • Fleet and Industrial Supply Center Pearl Harbor
  • Navy Munitions Command East Asia at Pearl Harbor
  • Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Hawaii
  • Marine Corps Base Hawaii

May 2023 - A new paper from the Annals of Global Health examines documents from DuPont and 3M, the largest manufacturers of PFAS, and analyzes the tactics the industry used to delay public awareness of PFAS toxicity and, in turn, delay regulations governing their use. The secret industry documents were discovered in a lawsuit filed by attorney Robert Bilott, who was the first to successfully sue DuPont for PFAS contamination. Little was publicly known about the toxicity of PFAS for the first 50 years of their use, the authors stated in the paper. "DuPont had evidence of PFAS toxicity from internal animal and occupational studies that they did not publish in the scientific literature and failed to report their findings to EPA as required under TSCA. These documents were all marked as 'confidential' and in some cases, industry executives are explicit that they 'wanted this memo destroyed,'" states the paper.

March 2023 - Between 2016 and 2022, the EPA worked off an advisory health limit of 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA. However, the agency set a new legal limit of 4 ppt for these highly toxic chemicals in drinking water, which science shows are still dangerous to consume. Last year, after science showed that no level of exposure to PFAS from drinking water is safe, the EPA set "advisory health limits" of 0.02 ppt for PFOA and 0.004 ppt for PFOS. Public health advocates believe that the discrepancy is likely the consequence of industry pressure on the EPA and a lack of ability of PFAS tests that regulators use to check water for the substances at levels as low as 0.02 ppt.

December 2022 - Over 600,000 U.S. troops may have been exposed to PFAS on military bases, according to a report from the Department of Defense and analysis from the Environmental Working Group. The Department of Defense found PFAS at 70 parts per trillion or more at 24 military bases across the country. At the moment, there are 400 U.S. military installations in the states and overseas with known PFAS contamination and more than 300 with suspected contamination.

September 2021 - The Department of Defense sent letters to 2,063 agricultural operations within a mile of 95 military bases regarding PFAS contamination in the area farmworkers were living in. The average military base sent 21 notices, and half of the installations sent seven or fewer.

August 2021 - Over 385 military bases are contaminated with PFAS, according to the Pentagon. Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy resilience, said during a public discussion on PFAS that it would take "years to fully define cleanup requirements the department faces, and probably decades before that cleanup is complete." The cleanup endeavor costs were estimated at $2 billion.

July 2021 - The Department of Defense held a public outreach event detailing the roles and responsibilities, funding process, and actions taken as part of its cleanup activities concerning PFAS contamination of communities living near military bases. The presentation detailed the future goals of the Department of Defense regarding public health outcomes, such as minimizing the use of AFFF and monitoring the health of firefighters who have been exposed to PFAS.

January 2021 - New Jersey sued the federal government, accusing it of contaminating the environment with PFAS on three military bases in the state by continuing to use AFFF. PFAS have polluted the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and two other bases at Trenton and Earle at levels that greatly exceed New Jersey's safe limit for human exposure. The federal government waived sovereign immunity by agreeing to follow the state's standards for the safe exposure levels of PFAS but has "not addressed the imminent and substantial endangerment to the human health of New Jersey's residents."

October 2019 - Environmental Working Group compiled a top 100 list of the most contaminated military bases with PFAS in the U.S. At 13 sites in California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, the PFAS contamination level was over 1 million parts per trillion when the safe limit is just 70 parts per trillion. The military base with the highest PFAS level was England Air Force Base in Louisiana, where there were approximately 20.7 million parts per trillion PFAS.

2015 - The main U.S. manufacturers voluntarily ceased the production of PFOS and PFOA. Moreover, the Department of Defense updated the Military Specification for AFFF so that new supplies available for emergency firefighting responses would not contain detectable levels of PFOS or PFOA. Still, AFFF continues to be used by the Department of Defense, but only to respond to emergency situations.

1966 - The formula of AFFF was developed by the U.S. Navy together with the 3M company. Soon, all military vessels were required to carry AFFF to be used to extinguish a potential jet fuel or petroleum fire. AFFF is designed to put out Class B fires, which stem from flammable liquids or gases, such as petroleum greases, tars, oils, certain paints, solvents, and lacquers.

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