Firefighting foam used by the military may have caused the contamination of hundreds of drinking water sources throughout the United States, Defense Department officials recently warned.
The military plans to investigate potential problems at 664 sites where fire training and crash training exercises were conducted nationwide.
Firefighting foam used in those exercises contained perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which may have entered groundwater systems and infiltrated drinking water supplies, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Exposure to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have been linked to a risk of tumors, neonatal death, liver toxicity, immune system problems, disruption of the human endocrine system, as well as a potential risk of prostate, kidney and testicular cancers.
At least two sites have already been found to be contaminated, including Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, Virginia, and Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey. PFCs were found in the drinking water at Fentress, but only in the groundwater, and not drinking water, at Earle station.
Personnel at the landing field have been given bottled water to drink.
The firefighting foam is crucial for use in fuel fires, because of its ability to put them out quickly. If such fires rage out of control and spread to other sensitive military equipment, such as vehicles and ordinance, the results could be catastrophic. However, currently the only firefighting foams rated to handle such fires contain PFCs.
The Defense Department indicates that since December, at least 28 naval sites have been investigated, using samples from monitoring wells. It has also removed stocks of the firefighting foam from some locations and said it will attempt to prevent uncontrolled releases in future training exercises until a foam that does not use PFCs can be certified.
In addition to the sites themselves, the Navy is also testing the drinking water of nearby property owners and will assess any actions that it needs to take if contamination is found, officials said.
PFC Toxicity Concerns
Researchers from the U.S. and Europe say that PFCs are a form of contaminant frequently present in the environment, but whose effects on the human body are not well understood.
PFC’s are used in the production of fluoropolymer chemicals that produce a strong, nearly indestructible chemical bond. While these chemicals were once seemingly harmless and though to be inert, they are now discovered to be much more harmful. PFCs are found in many brand name products going by names such as Teflon, Stainmaster and Scotchguard.
Some Researchers say PFCs are commonly found in human blood, breast milk and cord blood. Many PFCs are found worldwide in humans, the environment and wildlife and humans are consistently exposed to PFCs in non-stick cookware, clothes, furniture and protective coatings in food products.
In more recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun to regulate products containing PFCs much more closely. The EPA cites the numerous adverse affects to humans, including reproductive, developmental and systemic adverse effects.
According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012, PFC exposure may also suppress the immune system and limit the ability of the body to create antibodies in response to childhood vaccines.