The group of toxic chemicals known as PFAS have been found or are suspected to exist in ground and surface water at 678 military installations across the U.S., according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
As we have previously explained, PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and accumulate in the human body over the years. Research shows they increase the risk of cancer, kidney disease, thyroid conditions, and auto-immune disorders. In 2016, the EPA set a lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA, the two most common PFAS.
The EWG’s findings on the military base were based on records maintained by the Defense Department (DOD), which has used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) to fight fires in training exercises at numerous military installations. The EWG concluded that 28 bases had PFAS in drinking water at levels above the applicable levels set by state regulators. Despite their toxicity, PFAS are not regulated by the EPA, so states have had to lead the way in establishing exposure limits to protect their citizens.
Many of the nation’s highest levels of groundwater contamination have been found at military bases. Last October, 64 bases and civilian airports hosting National Guard units measured PFAS levels exceeding 100,000 parts per trillion in groundwater. While not all these measurements were taken from drinking water sources, PFAS are extremely mobile in the environment and could eventually contaminate those sources.
Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee co-signed a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, asking for specific measures to address PFAS chemicals affecting communities and service members. The request included requiring the EPA to create a drinking water standard PFOA and PFOS within two years, blood testing for all DOD personnel and dependents who may have been exposed to PFAS, and increased protections for military firefighters.
As the public learns more about the extent of PFAS contamination, lawsuits have been filed by a variety of Plaintiffs, including residents whose drinking water has been contaminated, water systems that require additional filtration to remove PFAS, and firefighters who have used AFFF and have been diagnosed with one of the associated diseases.
Nearly 500 lawsuits involving exposure to PFAS through AFFF have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mark Gergel in the District of South Carolina. Discovery is ongoing in the MDL, with the parties providing the Court with updates monthly.
However, the MDL does not oversee many other PFAS-related lawsuits alleging exposure to toxic chemicals from non-AFFF sources. These include those filed against chemical companies that manufacture the chemicals and industries that apply the chemicals to various consumer products.
One industry that relies heavily on PFAS is the carpet manufacturing industry, which uses the chemicals to impart water-, stain- and soil resistance to its flooring products. Lawyers in our firm, along with Roger H. Bedford of Roger Bedford & Associates, have filed lawsuits on behalf of the water systems in Gadsden and Centre, Alabama. These lawsuits allege that carpet and textile companies, manufacturers, and chemical suppliers located upstream in Dalton, Georgia, are responsible for contaminating the Coosa River and Weiss Lake. The lawsuits were filed to ensure that these entities, not ratepayers in Gadsden and Centre, would pay to decontaminate their drinking water.