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DoD Names 126 Bases Worldwide as Potential Camp Lejeune Water Crises Spots

Last March, the Department of Defense issued a report to the House Armed Services Committee that cited for the first time the full scope of the water contamination problem on U.S. military installations across the globe. Water at 126 military installations was found to contain levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable standards for perfluorooctane sulfonate or perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOS and PFOA. These perfluorinated compounds have been linked to cancers and developmental delays for fetuses and infants, and are known to have caused widespread, severe and deadly injuries to service members and their families at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina from 1953 to 1987.

The Military Times recently interviewed Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Safety & Occupational Health, about the Pentagon’s plan moving forward. Important takeaways from the interview include these:

  • EPA health standards on exposure to PFOA/PFOS are advisories, not federal regulations. Therefore, the DoD is voluntarily complying where it owns the water, but the Pentagon is limited with what it can do where an outside vendor or municipality supplies the water.
  • The EPA only developed a monitoring rule for PFOA/PFOS in 2012.
  • The DoD never tested for PFOA/PFOS in the 1970s or the 1980s.

That last point is a stunning admission, since the Pentagon certainly knew about the crisis at Camp Lejeune by the early 1980s, but apparently did not launch a global investigation to discover whether other Camp Lejeunes were festering anywhere. Sullivan’s explanation is that “there was no indication from EPA that they had concerns about [PFOA/PFOS] being in the drinking water.”

But why would DoD wait on the EPA to show an interest in PFOA/PFOS, when the crisis at Camp Lejeune  was already apparent? Shouldn’t the Pentagon have been more proactive to protect service members? It’s not as if Camp Lejeune was the only base using perfluorinated compounds in foams to extinguish fires.

As for the long-term fixes to the problem, Sullivan mentioned these:

  • Different sites require different actions.
  • Each location will go on the EPA’s Superfund list.
  • Each location will receive a Preliminary Assessment and Site Inspection.
  • Depending on specific damage at a site, remedial actions could take a decade or more to complete.

Sullivan did say steps have been taken to assure that uncontaminated drinking water is currently available on the affected bases. In many cases, bottled water is being brought onto the site.

Sullivan’s interview is troubling, because her statements imply that the Pentagon has been at least 40 years too late in reacting to what it knew about Camp Lejeune by the 1970s — and that delay allowed other facilities to become a breeding ground for similar harm to additional innocent service members and their families. We can only hope the levels of contamination don’t lead to the same harm suffered at Camp Lejeune.

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