EPA cannot sue the DOD for environmental pollution at military sites, as it doesn’t have the same leverage as it does at private sites. Instead, the military will take into account state environmental standards, or ARAR (Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements).
PFAS in military water contamination lawsuits involves the use of firefighting foam, which contains toxic PFAS chemicals. This firefighting foam has been found in water supplies in many military bases, including Fort Dix, New Jersey. The New Jersey government continued to use firefighting foam despite the risks it posed to people. Two of these “forever chemicals” entered the groundwater around three military bases in New Jersey and exceeded the limits set for safe human consumption.
While the Environmental Protection Agency has set a safe limit of 70 parts per trillion of PFAS, the Department of Health and Human Services has suggested that the safe level should be seven parts per trillion. Since the chemical is extremely toxic, military officials have done little to clean up the water. They’ve cited research findings and studies that point to inadequate action. However, a large number of military installations may be affected by this contamination.
Whether or not the military has taken action on PFAS is a matter of dispute, but the Department of Defense has indicated it’s committed to addressing the issue. In a recent congressional hearing, a senior Defense Department official testified that the Department of Defense had pledged to take action if a state imposed a standard for the use of PFAS. Moreover, if the Defense Department agrees to comply with the standards, it will have more leniency in cleaning up these contamination sites. Despite the conflict between the two sides, the Defense Department has been reluctant to acknowledge that it is responsible for the contamination.
PFAS in drinking water
The recent release of PFAS in the drinking water of military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq has sparked a nationwide discussion about the harmful effects of PFAS. However, the sources of PFAS are not well understood. PFOA and PFOS are commonly released by the Defense Department (DoD). The military is responsible for the majority of PFAS releases. The government is currently investigating the cause of the contamination.
Some cities around the bases are concerned about the contamination of their water supplies. While the military provides water treatment and filtration services to all military bases, residents in nearby communities are concerned that PFAS could be contaminating their tap water. This chemical is found in drinking water sources at 560 public and private bases across the country. Moreover, it is known to affect human health and the well-being of wildlife in the surrounding area.
Fortunately, there are now tests that can detect the presence of PFAS in blood. While the military has declined to test its soldiers, the VA has recently agreed to conduct population-based health studies involving military personnel and their families. But the military is still reluctant to test civilians. The VA maintains that the scientific evidence is still inconclusive. However, it is not clear whether military personnel is at risk for PFAS contamination, and many are still uncertain about the potential health effects.
PFAS in groundwater
DoD is committed to reducing the potential for PFAS contamination in military groundwater and is working with environmental regulators to determine the best methods to remediate the contamination. The program will prioritize sites nationwide and consider regulatory input to determine the best way to mitigate the risks associated with the compounds. Until the cleanup process is complete, DoD will continue to track the results of PFAS studies. In the meantime, the military is taking measures to reduce the amount of contamination by minimizing exposure.
In a recent report, the EPA noted that PFAS contamination was occurring at hundreds of military bases across the country. Although the Air Force has not yet identified the source of PFAS contamination, it has discovered it in military groundwater. While these levels are above health-safe levels, the contamination is still present and needs to be remedied. Because the PFAS contamination has been so widespread, Congress has passed bipartisan legislation that requires the Air Force to disclose the results of its testing.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a Lifetime Health Advisory for PFAS in 2012, which set the threshold for the compounds at 70 parts per trillion. The PFAS contamination in military groundwater has been attributed to decades of improper waste disposal practices and leaking storage tanks. Several drinking water wells have tested positive, and the contamination is moving toward Lake Huron and local lakes for recreation. One such lake is Van Etten Lake, which runs through the town of Oscoda, Michigan.