Tens of millions of Americans in 43 states may have been exposed to toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS in their drinking water.
In a report from May, the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed how PFAS had exposed upwards of 19 million Americans through contaminated groundwater. EWG found 610 contaminated locations ranging from public water systems, military bases, military and civilian airports, industrial plants, dumps, and firefighter training sites.
Now the environmental advocacy group has identified 58 more military sites where high levels of PFAS used in firefighting foam have been detected in groundwater or drinking water, from Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson, Alaska to Fort Eustis, Virginia, reported the Military Times.
Many of the new locations contain PFAS levels over 100,000 parts per trillion.
"The EPA and the Department of Defense have utterly failed to treat PFAS contamination as a crisis demanding swift and decisive action," said Ken Cook, president of EWG, in a statement announcing the additional contaminated sites.
"'It's time for Congress to end new PFAS pollution and clean up legacy contamination," Cook said.
For decades, the military and other civilian agencies used firefighting foams that contained PFAS. These dangerous chemicals are also in hundreds of everyday household products.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the toxic chemicals are present in the blood samples of the general population. Prior studies have shown the dangerous chemicals have been linked to weakened childhood immunity, thyroid disease, cancer, and other major health issues.
DoD officials are prioritizing cleanup operations for 401 of the sites, said Deborah Morefield, manager of the Defense Environmental Restoration Program in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the environment.
The cleanup process occurred under a law known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA, she said. "'It's a long process, and it 'doesn't happen overnight."
Under new DoD policy, the firefighting foam has been banned from training, maintenance, or testing exercises, Morefield said. "It's only being used for real fire emergencies, and even in those cases, we're treating it as a spill response. We're collecting and trying to make sure it 'doesn't get into the environment further," she said.
Morefield said Congress had allocated additional monies for cleanup sites. "We are trying to get our hands on this, trying to make sure we get the appropriate funding to move forward to take care of our cleanup responsibilities."
Congress introduced new legislation earlier this year that would require the EPA to set new limits for PFAS by 2021-22.
EWG's reports reveal that America's drinking water crisis goes way beyond Flint.