Which U.S. Military Bases Have Suffered PFAS Contamination?

Which U.S. Military Bases Have Suffered PFAS Contamination?

As public concern over the prevalence of PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, has grown, the U.S. military has taken steps to identify and eliminate these pollutants from installations across the country. Unfortunately, for many military service members and their families, this shift has come too late, as repeated exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has led them to develop serious and even life-threatening health issues. 

This has cost many dearly in terms of their quality of life, income, and career aspirations, in addition to their physical health. As the government’s investigation continues to uncover contamination sites across the U.S., individual plaintiffs are pursuing personal injury claims against the manufacturers of AFFF firefighting foam, which is the primary culprit for PFAS contamination on U.S. military bases. 

Active duty military personnel and veterans should pay close attention to the bases where dangerous levels of PFAS are discovered in the coming months, as they may be eligible to recover compensation for their damages as a part of the AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits being processed as a multidistrict litigation. Personal injury attorneys are working diligently to support plaintiffs in the AFFF firefighting foam claims to secure settlements that reimburse them for their losses.

PFAS Contaminants Found on Military Bases Across the U.S.

Data collected by the Department of Defense has confirmed dangerous levels of PFAS at dozens of different sites and indicated that over 700 military locations are likely contaminated with PFAS. Since the initial report was released, the DoD has been in the process of conducting Preliminary Assessments of bases at risk. In March 2023, they provided the update that 425 locations had been assessed, and 103 were cleared for dangerous levels of PFAS.

The remaining 322 sites, which include Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Knox, West Point U.S. Military Academy, and Fort Hood, will be subject to Remedial Investigation. The purpose of this is to ascertain what actions need to be taken to restore the location’s PFAS levels to a safe amount. Locations with higher risks to personnel will be given priority in this process. 

EPA Tightens Restrictions on Safe PFAS Levels as Investigation Progresses

It is also worth noting that when deciding if the exposure risk for a given base was dangerous or not, the DoD was relying on the 2016 EPA standard for acceptable levels of PFAS in drinking water, which is significantly more lax than the current standards. In 2016, the EPA advisory level for two of the most common PFAS was set to less than 70 ppt, but the agency updated it to less than 4 ppt in 2023.

As a result, military personnel may have been exposed to unsafe levels of PFAS on installations that the DoD has dismissed. The new EPA standards have been ruled as admissible evidence for the PFAS contamination multidistrict litigation. This is likely to expand the range of eligible plaintiffs who were exposed to unsafe levels of PFAS on military installations.

AFFF Firefighting Foam Blamed for Widespread PFAS Exposure on Military Bases

One of the primary sources of PFAS contamination on and near military bases is AFFF firefighting foam. The military, along with fire stations and airports, has long relied on this substance both for training purposes and to extinguish fires in real emergencies. Military personnel may inhale toxins when spraying the AFFF or suffer exposure through skin contact. 

Once a fire has been extinguished with AFFF, the substance can become runoff and enter the water supply, exposing personnel to dangerous levels of PFAS through the water on the base. The use of AFFF foam can also impact the surrounding areas once it has found its way into the groundwater supply. Despite mounting concerns about the dangers of significant exposure to PFAS in AFFF, the military decided to prioritize the need for an effective fire extinguisher over the long-term risk to personnel who were repeatedly exposed to these toxic chemicals. 

In the meantime, the military has spent years developing an alternative extinguisher. A new directive from Congress has set a deadline for the military to phase out AFFF, which puts pressure on the branches to comply and expedite the development of the alternative. Thus far, the Air Force has made sufficient progress in eliminating AFFF foam to meet their 2024 deadline, but these efforts will only prevent further contamination beyond the pollution that still needs to be cleaned up.

Exposure to PFAS Linked to Adverse Health Outcomes Like Cancer

Virtually every person in the U.S. has least trace amounts of PFAS in their system, since PFAS are found in a variety of everyday goods. For example, PFAS have been found in tampons, non-stick cookware, and cosmetics. Most recently, they were discovered in pesticides used on food crops. PFAS are often used as a component to make products water, stain, grease, and heat-resistant, which is why they are so effective as an element of AFFF fire-fighting foam. 

Unfortunately, the same durability that makes PFAS so appealing to manufacturers is dangerous for humans, as our bodies are not capable of breaking down these chemicals, hence the nickname “forever chemicals”. Significant or regular exposure has been connected to a host of negative health outcomes, such as:

Plaintiffs With Occupational Exposure to PFAS Can Seek Compensation for Damages

At this point, the focus is on compensating individual service members, as well as civilian firefighters and airport employees, who were exposed to PFAS on the job, usually through AFFF foam. While claims against the government for PFAS contamination have been allowed in certain limited circumstances, such as the decades-long pollution of Camp Lejeune’s water supply, the AFFF multidistrict litigation targets the manufacturers of AFFF firefighting foam and its components.

Currently, over 5,000 claims have been brought against chemical manufacturers like 3M, Chemours, and DuPont. Due to the number of plaintiffs and the commonality in their complaints, the AFFF firefighting foam claims have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation in South Carolina. The goal is to expedite the claims process and produce consistent outcomes for plaintiffs seeking compensation for their damages.

Environmental Exposure to PFAS Remains a Risk for Communities Near Military Bases

The water contaminated by AFFF runoff from military bases has also been connected to higher rates of cancer and other health conditions in nearby communities, like in the case of residents living near Pensacola’s military bases. In some cases, a single event such as the Kalaeloa Airport spill, can contaminate groundwater, or the pollution can occur over a longer period of time. Cleaning up groundwater that has been contaminated by the PFAS in AFFF is a complex, expensive, and lengthy task.

To address the contamination of local water supplies located near military bases, municipal water providers have filed claims against the major manufacturers of AFFF firefighting foam to recover the costs of cleanup and monitoring. In June 2023, it was reported that 3M, as well as DuPont subsidiaries Corteva and Chemours, had agreed to settle municipal water contamination claims. The hope is that individual plaintiffs in the AFFF firefighting foam multidistrict litigation will also soon see financial relief for their losses. 

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer About Your PFAS Contamination Lawsuit

Plaintiffs in the AFFF multidistrict litigation argue that AFFF firefighting foam manufacturers knew the risks of PFAS, yet continued to create products with these chemicals and failed to warn consumers. In order to recover compensation for their damages, they will need to establish that the defendants owed them a duty of care to create reasonably safe products and provide accurate warnings about the carcinogenic potential of the foam.

Treating cancer or other AFFF-related health issues, holding down a job, caring for your family, and maintaining a positive outlook is an overwhelming load without the additional stress a product liability lawsuit can bring. To give your claim the best chance of success, you should hire an AFFF foam lawyer to handle the details of your case. 


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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