PFAS Found In Well Water Near 63 US Military Bases

The pervasive contamination of drinking water sources by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” near military installations across the United States has become a pressing environmental and public health issue. These substances, particularly PFOA and PFOS, have been detected in alarming concentrations in private wells, raising concerns about the long-term effects on human health and the environment. This article provides an in-depth exploration of the extent of PFAS contamination, its regulatory backdrop, health implications, and the response from both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Extent of Contamination and DOD’s Involvement

Research conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) based on DOD records has uncovered that 2,805 drinking water samples from wells near 63 military bases across 29 states contain PFOA and PFOS levels exceeding 4 parts per trillion (ppt), the proposed limit set by the EPA. These findings underscore a critical issue: the contamination spans a significant portion of the country, affecting numerous communities residing near military bases. Despite these findings, the DOD has so far been reticent in providing necessary clean water solutions to the affected populations, adhering only to its established threshold of 70 ppt for taking action.

The EPA’s move to propose a maximum contaminant level of 4 ppt for PFOA and PFOS represents a significant shift towards stricter regulation, acknowledging the mounting scientific evidence that even low-level exposure to these chemicals can lead to serious health risks. PFAS compounds are linked to a range of adverse health effects, including cancer, immune system suppression, and reduced effectiveness of vaccines. The discrepancy between the DOD’s action level and the EPA’s proposed standards highlights a regulatory gap that leaves many individuals at risk.

Military Installations and the Spread of PFAS

The issue of PFAS contamination is not isolated to a handful of locations but is widespread across the United States. High-profile bases, such as Peterson SFB in Colorado and Shaw AFB in South Carolina, have reported significant numbers of contaminated water samples. Furthermore, Reese AFB in Texas stands out with 833 samples showing detectable levels of PFAS, illustrating the vast scale of potential exposure and the urgent need for comprehensive testing and remediation efforts.

The following are military bases have high PFAS levels – but too low to trigger DOD support:

Installations with well samples with PFOA or PFOS above 4 parts per trillion (ppt) but below 70 ppt:

Eielson AFB – 11
Galena Forward Operating Location – 4
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson – 4

Air Force Plant 44 – 2
Luke AFB – 2

Little Rock AFB – 8

Castle AFB – 9
March AFB – 36
Mather AFB – 30
Presidio of Monterey – Sharpe Army Depot – 12
Travis AFB – 1

Peterson SFB – 101
Schriever SFB – 4

Dover AFB – 13

Avon Park Air Force Reserve – 16
Cid Corry Station – 12
Homestead Air Reserve Base – 20
Hurlburt Field – 16
Saufley FLD NAS – 4
Whiting FLD NAS – 35

Moody AFB – 2

Scott AFB – 8

McConnell AFB – 11

Brunswick NAS – 5
Loring AFB – 34
Naval Support Activity Cutler – 30

NSF Thurmont – 4
Massachusetts – Otis ANG (Joint Base Cape Cod – Massachusetts Military Reservation) – 17

K.I. Sawyer AFB – 6
MTC-H Camp Grayling Airfield (installation-wide PAI) – 90

Camp Ripley – 20

Fort William Henry Harrison /JFHQ MT – 6

=New Hampshire=
Pease AFB – 80

=New Jersey=
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst – 12

=New York=
Plattsburgh AFB – 16

=North Carolina=
Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station – 2
Seymour Johnson AFB – 11

Tinker AFB – 25

Biddle ANGB (formerly Horsham/Willow Grove ANG) – 11
Letterkenny Army Depot – 3
Mechanicsburg PA NAVICP – 6
Warminster NAWC AD – 179
Willow Grove NASJRB – 118

=Rhode Island=
NAVAL AUX Landing Field – 42

=South Carolina=
Beaufort SC MCAS – 3
McEntire Air Guard – 16
McEntire ANG AASF – 1
Shaw AFB – 205

=South Dakota=
Ellsworth AFB – 30

Arnold AFB – 8

Goodfellow AFB – 25
Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Randolph, Ft. Sam Houston, Camp Bullis – 40
Reese AFB – 833
Sheppard AFB – 11

Oceana NAS – 13
Vint Hill Farms – 28

Bremerton Naval Base – 2
Fairchild AFB – 367
JB Lewis McChord – Yakima Training Center – 67
Naval Base Kitsap Bangor – 1
Whidbey Island Naval Air Station – 77

Source: EWG, from DOD published drinking water testing under Section 345 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022

Response and Remediation Efforts

The response to the PFAS crisis has been met with criticism, particularly regarding the speed and scope of the DOD’s actions to provide clean drinking water and address the sources of contamination. The process of cleaning up contaminated sites has been slow, with the DOD’s expenditure on pollution cleanup, including efforts to remove PFAS, reaching its lowest levels in decades. This slow response is juxtaposed against the backdrop of more than 450 military installations identified with PFAS contamination in either groundwater, drinking water, or both, and investigations into suspected contamination at over 700 bases ongoing.

The human cost of PFAS contamination cannot be overstated. With nearly one in seven Americans relying on private wells for their drinking water, the potential for widespread exposure is significant. The lack of federal requirements for regular monitoring of pollutants in private wells further exacerbates the issue, leaving many individuals unknowingly at risk. The DOD’s reliance on a higher threshold for action, based on outdated safety levels, underscores a critical need for updated regulations and proactive measures to ensure the safety of drinking water for all communities, especially those in the vicinity of military bases.

The issue of PFAS contamination near military installations is a complex challenge that requires a coordinated and comprehensive response from both the DOD and EPA. As scientific understanding of the risks associated with PFAS exposure continues to evolve, so too must the strategies for addressing this pervasive threat. Ensuring the safety of drinking water through rigorous testing, regulation, and remediation efforts is paramount. The health and environmental impacts of PFAS contamination demand urgent attention and action to protect affected communities and prevent further exposure.




Towards a Solution: Reverse Osmosis and Water Conditioners

Addressing PFAS contamination requires robust and effective water treatment solutions. Reverse osmosis filtration systems are among the most effective technologies for removing a wide range of contaminants, including PFAS, from drinking water. These systems work by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane, trapping contaminants on one side and allowing clean water to pass through. Additionally, whole-home water conditioners can be used in tandem with reverse osmosis systems to enhance water quality further, providing comprehensive protection against a variety of pollutants.

The need for action is clear: as the science around PFAS evolves, so too must our strategies for ensuring safe drinking water. By implementing advanced filtration technologies and advocating for stricter regulatory standards, we can safeguard public health and the environment from the persistent threat of forever chemicals.