Yakima Army Base to Give Local Residents Water Filters Due to PFAS Contamination Risks
The U.S. Army has agreed to install water filtration systems on wells in a community near its Yakima Training Center, due to the detection of high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) water contamination.
According to a Yakima Training Center (YTC) newsletter (PDF) issued last month, the Army has contacted several contractors to install Point of Entry Treatment (POET) water filtration systems in wells in nearby East Selah this fall where the high PFAS levels were detected. The filters will be placed at homes where PFAS levels have exceeded 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
Military Firefighter Foam PFAS Risks
Commonly referred to as “forever chemicals”, PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, the chemicals are known to persist in the environment and human body for decades, posing a variety of serious side effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
While the chemicals have been widely used in a number of consumer products, most of the military base water contamination problems stem from high levels of the chemicals in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which has been used by firefighters during training and responses exercises, which usually occur on military bases.
As a result of heath risks associate with exposure, PFAS water contamination lawsuits are being filed by individuals living in many areas of the U.S., claiming they developed ulcerative colitis or cancer from high volumes of PFAS chemicals being dumped into the ground water surrounding chemical manufacturing plants and around military bases, airports and other training facilities like Yakima.
Earlier this summer, a lawsuit brought by a Florida water provider was scheduled to go before a jury to help gauge how juries were likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that would be repeated throughout PFAS lawsuits currently being pursued against chemical manufacturers and fire safety equipment manufacturers. However, in advance of the trial, a $12.5 billion PFAS settlement was reached to resolve claims brought by local water suppliers.
In recent years, hundreds of firefighting foam lawsuits have also been filed by former civilian and military firefighters diagnosed with various forms of cancer after direct exposure to the chemicals.
The YTC newsletter specifically identifies firefighting foam as the likely candidate for PFAS water contamination afflicting neighboring communities, noting that AFFFs were previously used on the military base “and impacted the groundwater outside the training center gates.”
While the installation of the new filtration systems will not begin until fall, the Army indicates it plans to supply residents with bottled water until the filters are in place.
“Installing the filtration systems will require a team effort of contractors, electricians, plumbers, suppliers, and other professionals,” the newsletter states. “As an interim solution, the Army is providing bottled water to households whose drinking water tested above 70 ppt for PFAS. The POET filtration system will be a durable solution while the Army continues its remediation work.”
The Army indicates it must obtain Right of Entry permission from each homeowner before the installation of the water filtration systems can begin.
PFAS Contamination on U.S. Military Bases
A recent analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental activist organization, found that in 2021 the Department of Defense estimated that $31 billion in funding is needed to address military base PFAS water contamination.
However, for fiscal year 2023, EWG indicates the Pentagon only requested $1.4 billion for the cleanup efforts. Congress instead budgeted $2.2 billion. In its fiscal year 2024 budget request, the Pentagon has asked for only $1.5 billion; essentially asking Congress to cut its funding from the previous year.
In April 2022, the Department of Defense conducted an assessment of PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases, indicating 24 installations, with a total population of 175,000, exposed residents to PFAS in drinking water. It released the results in June. However, EWG says there are at least 116 such installations, with more than 640,000 likely exposed to PFAS in their drinking water.
EWG estimates it would take 50 years to clean up military base PFAS contamination at the current rate. The group recommends Congress provide at least $2.75 billion in total PFAS cleanup funding to the military in 2024, with $2 billion for active military sites and $750 million for former military installations which have been shut down.
Testing at the Yakima base occurred in late May, involving the Army, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology. Investigators tested 49 wells, many of which have been tested previously, and expects the results soon. The newsletter indicates testing will continue with different wells on a quarterly basis, both to identify contaminated wells and track variations in PFAS levels throughout the area.
There have already been concerns for years about the potential effects on the local water supply and population near the Yakima Training Center.
In late September 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was conducting an investigation into a cluster of birth defects in central Washington, including a three-county area around Yakima. No cause for the cluster has ever been identified.
Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Problems
The problems at Yakima are similar to those which impacted Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine training base in North Carolina, which was plagued by water contamination problems from PFAS and numerous other toxic chemicals which millions of service members, family members and other individuals were exposed to for decades.
Estimates suggest that more than a million Marines and their family members were exposed to contaminated Camp Lejeune water between the early 1950s and late 1980s, with some reports suggesting that toxic chemicals from Camp Lejeune may be responsible for more than 50,000 cases of breast cancer, 28,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 24,000 cases of renal cancer, as well as thousands of cases involve Parkinson’s disease and other health complications. It is also believed that Camp Lejeune water caused birth defects and wrongful death for thousands of unborn children exposed in utero.
For years, Camp Lejeune water injury claims have been denied by the U.S. government, based on qualified immunity defenses and the North Carolina statute of limitations, which was already expired by the time the problems at the Marine base were discovered. However, President Biden and the U.S. Congress have now opened a two year window for veterans, family members and others exposed to the water for at least 30 days between 1953 and 1987 to pursue compensation for their injuries.
A rapidly growing number of Camp Lejeune lawsuits are now filed by individuals diagnosed with various different types of cancer and other injuries. The Department of the Navy has indicated at least 60,000 claims were already filed by May 2023, and the number of lawsuits is expected to continue to grow over the next year, before the deadline to bring claims expires in August 2024.
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