News Feature | June 14, 2017

Did Military Bury Info On PFC Threat To Drinking Water?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Military and industry officials appear to have known about the dangers of firefighting foams a decade before it came to light that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in these foams had contaminated water supplies across the country.

“That’s according to a series of documents reviewed by this news organization, including the authenticated March 2001 minutes of a meeting of foam manufacturers,” The Intelligencer reported.

“Firefighting foams that broke down into unregulated, toxic chemicals PFOS and PFOA were sold to the military from 1970 to 2015 and used at hundreds of bases across the country — including the local bases. In recent years, they have become a nationwide focus for the Department of Defense, which is phasing out the foams and searching for contamination,” the report explained.

The newspaper analyzed minutes of a 2001 meeting by the National Fire Protection Association’s Technical Committee on Foam, and found that officials had been worried about environmental contamination from firefighting foam for years.

“The 2001 minutes indicate the military was aware of the hazards the foam presented more than a decade before taking any action locally. The investigation of PFOS and PFOA contamination at former Navy bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties [in Pennsylvania] didn't begin until 2011,” the report said.

Senator Bob Casey, D-PA, is also looking for answers on what the military knew and when.

"My constituents deserve to know when the Department of Defense had information to suggest that the use of (firefighting foam) had adverse impacts on health and the environment," Casey wrote in a letter to the U.S. Defense Department, per The Intelligencer.

The U.S. EPA issued a health advisory last year about exposure to PFCs as various towns wage high-profile battles against them, including Hoosick Falls, NY, as well as several cities with military bases. PFCs are industrial contaminants and research has tied them to cancer.

“The 70 ppt level recommended by the EPA [last year] was a dramatic decrease over the agency’s prior, short-term recommended limit of 400 ppt,” The Intelligencer previously reported.

The military is in the midst of testing for contamination at hundreds of sites across the country. The effort to test nearly 400 sites has cost over $150 million, but critics say it has been "slow and seemingly disjointed," according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

To read more about PFCs visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.