In a concerning new analysis, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has highlighted the Department of Defense’s (DoD) inadequate measures to address the contamination of military installations. The report reveals a growing backlog of contaminated sites, many of which are tainted with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as ‘forever chemicals.’ These persistent chemicals pose a significant threat to the environment as they do not break down and accumulate over time. PFAS have been utilized in various nonstick and waterproof consumer products since the 1940s.

Among military bases, PFAS has found wide application in firefighting foam, exacerbating the issue. The toxic nature of PFAS has led to the contamination of groundwater and drinking water in numerous current and former military installations. Disturbingly, the Defense Department has already identified 700 known and suspected military contamination sites, further emphasizing the urgent need for remediation efforts.

Szeged, Algyo, Hungary – October 8, 2015: : Regional fire-fighting exercise in the training area with urban and contract firefighters.

According to Jared Hayes, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group, the current funding falls far short of what is required to address the mounting cleanup obligations. Hayes stated, “Since 2016, DoD’s own estimates show the cleanup backlog has soared to $31 billion and growing. That’s up by $3.7 billion in that time frame. Yet the DoD’s appropriated cleanup budget increased just $400 million over that same period.” Without adequate funding, it will be impossible to keep pace with the rising demands for remediation.

In 2018, a Defense Department report identified four sites in Maryland contaminated with PFAS groundwater. In subsequent years, four additional contaminated sites have been discovered. In response, Congress has mandated that all military facilities must complete site assessments and inspections by the end of this year, signaling a heightened concern for addressing this pressing issue.

Recognizing the severity of the problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a new safe drinking water standard for PFAS, set at 4 parts per trillion. However, alarming results from a 2017 groundwater test near Fort Meade demonstrated PFAS levels as high as 87,000 parts per trillion at drinking water supply wells. With many other military installations facing similar or even worse circumstances, the costs associated with assessing and remediating these sites are expected to skyrocket.

Jared Hayes from the EWG estimated, “We estimate that it could cost tens of billions of dollars, and that’s on top of the $31 billion that’s already in the backlog. We’re looking at a lot of time that’s going to be needed to clean up contamination if funding is kept at the current levels. So really, funding needs to increase to match what’s going on, what’s happening on the ground and communities across the U.S.”

Numerous studies have linked PFAS exposure to a range of health problems, including developmental delays in children, immune system suppression, hormonal disruption, and an elevated risk of certain cancers. As the environmental and health risks associated with PFAS become increasingly apparent, urgent action is necessary to safeguard the well-being of communities living near military installations.

It is imperative for the Department of Defense to prioritize the allocation of sufficient funds to address the cleanup backlog and provide for ongoing remediation efforts. The health and safety of affected communities, as well as the protection of the environment, depend on swift and comprehensive action to mitigate the harmful effects of PFAS contamination at military sites nationwide.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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