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Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

New analysis confirms harmful ‘forever chemicals’ at Utah military bases

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Apr. 12, 2020 at 3:33 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A new analysis confirms drinking water or groundwater contamination at 328 installations across the country that have levels of “forever chemicals” that never break down and pose health risks.

Three of those incidences of contamination were confirmed in Utah including at Hill Air Force Base, Camp Williams and the Salt Lake City International Airport.

The Environmental Working Group pulled Department of Defense records and other documents that led them to suspect 678 installations in total may have a problem with PFAS, which are man-made chemicals used in everyday materials to repel oil, water, grease and stains.

Examples include water repelling clothing, grease resistant food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast food bags, and stain resistant carpet.

While these water samples may be confined to groundwater, the organization emphasized concerns over the adequacy of treatment for private wells and noncommunity providers that deliver water to a variety of facilities that include campgrounds.

Another four sites in Utah — all military — are suspected of having levels of forever chemicals because of the Pentagon’s use of a particular type of firefighting foam.

In a video conference hosted by the nonprofit advocacy organization, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, detailed the need to take more action to protect communities and military service members from exposure to forever chemicals.

“These are really dangerous to human health and we ought to act as a nation to protect people from them,” said Kildee, who co-chairs a congressional bipartisan task force formed to address the issue of contamination, especially in the military community.

Kildee said he asked for and was able to get the Department of Defense inspector general to conduct a probe of forever chemicals, but that investigation has likely been delayed due to the spread of coronavirus.

He and members of Congress sent a letter Thursday to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and its ranking member asking provisions of the PFAS Action Act be incorporated in to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

Some of the provisions include more funding for remediation at contaminated sites, requiring the EPA to develop a drinking water standard for certain types of the chemicals in two years, and blood testing for defense department personnel and their dependents.

Last year, the defense spending package included the requirement for active duty military firefighters to have their blood tested, which Kildee said is a good first step but not enough.

The letter also asks that the defense department step up its disposal of firefighting foam that contains the forever chemicals.

“Because service members are disproportionately exposed to PFAS, Congress should take steps to limit needless PFAS exposures,” the letter read.

Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president of government affairs, asserted the defense department has been slow to act even though the agency has known about the risk of forever chemicals for decades.

Growing public awareness of the group of chemicals, however, is helping drive federal and state action to minimize exposure and clean up contaminated sites, Killdee said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set an advisory level for forever chemicals at 70 parts per trillion, and some states are seeking to invoke their own standards.

In October 2018, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality formed a working group to address forever chemicals.

Testing of drinking water systems in Utah showed no levels of the chemicals above the EPA standard and there is no history of the chemicals being manufactured in Utah, according to the agency.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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