One of the most controversial environmental issues that the Trump administration is facing today is the matter regarding the contamination of drinking water of Americans living near or at military camps.
The contamination has been proven to be brought about by the recurrent and persistent use of excessive amounts of firefighting foam during military training exercises by the Defense Department of the United States.
This foam used in extinguishing fuel fires contains Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), or highly fluorinated chemicals which have been frequently linked to the development of certain types of cancers such as kidney cancer and testicular cancer, and immunosuppression. The overexposure of infants and fetuses to this chemical may cause developmental problems and delays in the long run.
As early as 2017, several people from the military communities and the surrounding areas began complaining about the contamination of their drinking water. Soon after, the Pentagon released a statement confirming that there were 401 known military facilities in the United States where this firefighting foam was regularly used.
At least 126 of these military bases and surrounding areas reported alarming levels of chemical contamination in their groundwater. An estimated five million to 10 million people in the United States are currently being affected by this water contamination.
The contamination in the drinking water occurs because the current formulation of PFAs used as key ingredient in firefighting foam inevitably go down to the groundwater and breaks down easily in the environment. If this polluted groundwater is tested in a testing laboratory it would then show alarming and toxic levels of contamination, which is not suitable or suggested for human consumption.
Addressing this issue, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established two new guidelines. The first one is for intensive clean-up drives which would require billions of dollars in clean-up costs. The second one is the setting of legally binding maximum allowable levels for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water.
It was suggested by the EPA that the known contaminated sites should be cleaned up to a level equivalent to the EPA’s current drinking water health advisory of 70 parts per trillion of PFOS and PFOA.
However, the Pentagon, together with the Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other small businesses appealed to lower these stringent standards set by the EPA.
Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler which said that “DOD and NASA continue to refuse to agree to take any measures to remediate contamination caused by their activities unless the measured levels of PFOA and PFOS [at contaminated bases] exceed 400 ppt.”
Similarly, the Pentagon believes that an appropriate cleanup level for PFAs would be 380 parts per trillion, or approximately six times more than the proposed EPA advisory drinking water level. This suggested 380 parts per trillion cleanup level is also 30 times greater than the level regarded as safe for human consumption as set by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.