An alarming report from the U.S. government shows toxic chemicals from military bases and government compounds have contaminated drinking water in nearby communities across the country.
The report titled Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Groundwater was unclassified as a briefing for the committees on armed services in Congress.
It’s focused on PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, which are used to make products water-, stain-, or grease-resistant. The chemicals are found in everything from airplanes to pots and pans and plastic bottles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Once products containing PFAS are made, these chemicals just accumulate in the environment everywhere, they end up in our water supply, they end up in our food, and they end up in us,” said Consumer Reports investigative reporter Lauren Kirchner.
And that, experts say, could cause health issues like certain cancers, liver damage, and neurodevelopmental problems.
The list includes 245 military bases and government facilities across the United States found to have contaminated drinking water in nearby communities. The report estimates there are more than 700 properties with the problem in total.
The list includes Naval Station Mayport, Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Whitehouse Navy Outlying Field, Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, Jacksonville International Airport and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.
The military is seen as one of the worst offenders for PFAS leakage into drinking water.
According to the Environmental Working Group, “for more than 50 years, the Department of Defense has used aqueous film forming foams, or AFFF, made with the toxic fluorinated chemicals called PFAS, on military bases to extinguish fires and in training exercises. These foams have entered into drinking water and groundwater on the bases and in surrounding areas and communities.”
It’s a big concern for Ilona Tongel, who lives just outside the southern limits of NAS Jacksonville.
“I love the nature, all the birds,” she said, admiring her property and garden off Collins Road. “Every day I wake up and feed the cats. Feed the birds.”
News4JAX notified her Monday that her oasis could be contaminated from decades of PFAS use at the base nearby.
“I didn’t know anything about that,” she said, noting she bought the land and home about five years ago. “Now I’m worried.”
This government report said the defense department is “committed to mitigating PFAS in the drinking water it supplies as well as addressing releases to the environment”
But cleanup could cost taxpayers billions, according to government budget estimates.
“That’s sad to hear because it will affect the nature as well,” Tongel said.
She uses well water from the ground for everything from showering to washing her hands to flushing her toilets and giving water to her cats. However, she cooks with and drinks filtered water, concerned about the smell of her well water.
“I don’t drink the water from the well,” she said, concerned that she had been unknowingly giving her cats contaminated water to drink.
She hopes the water she bathes in and uses to wash her hands hasn’t been contaminated but knows doesn’t have an answer.
The Guardian has been doing extensive reporting on PFAS concerns around military bases.