Thousands of Private Water Systems Contaminated by PFAS Originating from Military Sites

Thousands of Private Water Systems Contaminated by PFAS Originating from Military Sites

In a recent publication, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the latest batch of Defense Department data on PFAS contamination in private wells neighboring military installations. The analysis discovered that 2,805 private wells displayed detectable levels of PFOA and PFOS which exceeded limits proposed by the EPA earlier this year. 

The findings add to a growing body of literature that has sought to determine the extent of “forever chemical” contamination throughout the country and may influence the speed with which novel regulations are implemented and enforced. 

Alongside revamped research, regulation, and legislative initiatives, pending AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits have assumed a crucial role in exposing the pervasiveness of PFAS contamination and the prominent manufacturers responsible for causing it. 

PFAS Pose Considerable Risks to Human Health

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a vast and internally diverse group of highly toxic fluorinated chemicals. On account of their longevity and tendency to bioaccumulate, PFAS have earned the moniker “forever chemicals” and can cause considerable harm to human health and wildlife. 

PFAS are present in a variety of consumer goods and industrial products, ranging from non-stick cookware to AFFF firefighting foam. However, the toxic substances evaded meaningful regulations until the 21st century, which has precipitated a nationwide crisis and extensive litigation. 

Common Injuries Caused by PFAS Exposure

For example, multiple manufacturers of AFFF are actively battling a series of firefighting foam lawsuits from public water suppliers and private citizens which allege that inadequate warnings and irresponsible business practices contributed to unsafe contamination and personal injuries, such as: 

  • Kidney cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Thyroid cancer

Environmental Working Group Analyzes Defense Department PFAS Data

Section 345 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 requires the Defense Department to conduct testing on off-base drinking water supplies in vulnerable areas. Any location which was “adjacent to and down gradient from” former and current military installations was subject to the requirement. 

The Environmental Working Group recently examined the published data which the DoD collected from its extensive samplings, finding:

2,805 Private Wells Contain PFAS Levels Surpassing Proposed EPA Limits

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are common ingredients in the ubiquitous AFFF firefighting foam, which the Pentagon has been slow to eradicate from military bases. While testing “covered areas” under the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department discovered that at least 2,805 private wells displayed detectable traces of the two carcinogenic forever chemicals. 

The contaminated water supplies are located in at least 29 states, whose epicenters include: 

  • Reese Air Force Base, TX (833 sites) 
  • Fairchild Air Force Base, WA (367 sites) 
  • Shaw Air Force Base, SC (205 sites) 
  • Warminster NAWC AD (179 sites) 

Technically, the DoD PFAS data did not account for every potentially contaminated site, and the department’s official website notes that additional information is forthcoming. 

Inadequate Department of Defense Remediation Campaigns 

The Department of Defense is largely self-regulating in the context of PFAS contamination. It abides by a 2016 advisory from the EPA, which states that PFAS levels in drinking water supplies should not exceed 70 parts per trillion (ppt). 

However, the EPA’s 2023 PFAS proposal asserts that maximum levels should not exceed 4 ppt. The Defense Department has signaled that it would not adopt the novel regulations until their final ratification, which could occur in the coming months. 

Consequently, a considerable portion of the site-adjacent private wells whose PFAS levels were dangerously high but beneath the minimum DoD threshold are ineligible to access direly needed federal support in the form of: 

  • Water filtration systems
  • Alternative water sources
  • Remediation and treatment

Moreover, the Defense Department testing data did not indicate the number of individuals or communities reliant on the contaminated wells. The Environmental Working Group criticizes the inadequacy of the department’s official PFAS policy and states that many hundreds or thousands of citizens may be at risk for dangerous exposure. 

The Extent of PFAS Contamination in the United States

The EWG’s findings corroborated earlier studies and ongoing investigations about the correlation between military installations and PFAS contamination. However, the ubiquity of PFAS throughout the United States far surpasses the pollution attributable to the military. 

Airports and municipal fire stations, for example, have long used aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which contains various PFAS. Although more robust initiatives are underway to eradicate the flame retardant’s use in the suppression of Class B oil and petroleum fires, decades of unmitigated contamination have already polluted waterways and water utilities. 

EPA Received 900 Incident Reports of PFAS Contamination Between 1990 and 2021

The EPA’s National Response Center fields incident reports of toxic chemical spills from private and public facilities. In an effort to inform the public of the extent of PFAS exposure, the NRC recently published 898 reports submitted to the EPA from 1990 to 2021. 

Nearly a dozen involve the accidental or negligent mass release of AFFF, including: 

  • 805,000 gallons of AFFF at Melbourne Orlando International Airport (1995)
  • 52,000 gallons of AFFF at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (2001)
  • 100,000 gallons of firefighting water and foam in Phoenix, AZ (2009)
  • 50,000 gallons of AFFF in Little Rock, AR (2016)
  • 20,000 gallons of AFFF in Lakehurst, NJ (2017)

The Safe Water Drinking Act and the EPA’s UCMR Reports

In accordance with 1996 amendments to the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), the EPA conducts extensive research on unregulated contaminants through its National Occurrence Database (NCOD). The subsidiary’s research standards and activities are known as the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rules (UCMR). 

Scheduled from January 2023 to December 2025, the fifth UCMR is currently investigating 29 PFAS and lithium in American waterways. The latest quarterly report discovered that PFOA and PFOS levels in 7.8 to 8.5% of sampled public water systems (PWS) exceeded the EPA’s Health Advisory. 

AFFF Lawsuits Target Irresponsible Manufacturers

The manufacturers of AFFF have encountered increasing legal jeopardy for their role in contributing to PFAS contamination throughout the United States. In July 2019, a federal panel established a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in order to consolidate individual cases for pretrial proceedings. 

The first round of litigation addressed claims filed by municipal water suppliers whose utilities had been dangerously contaminated by AFFF runoff. 3M Company and DuPont Nemours reached a tentative settlement in the Summer of 2023, which has since been subject to official objections from states, cities, and excluded water suppliers. 

The next slate of AFFF lawsuits is set to resolve the complaints of those who sustained serious occupational injuries connected to PFAS levels in the firefighting foam. At this point, over 6,000 cases have enrolled in the MDL, none of which has been settled. 

In addition to the multidistrict litigation in South Carolina federal court, numerous states have filed lawsuits against prominent AFFF manufacturers. The litigation largely accuses the high-profile corporations of knowingly damaging natural resources and seeks reimbursement for the costs associated with former, current, and future remediation campaigns. 

Common Damages in AFFF Lawsuits 

The injuries linked to AFFF PFAS exposure can prove both life-altering and life-threatening. Fortunately, individuals who have suffered from the negligence and deceptive marketing practices of prominent AFFF manufacturers may be eligible to seek compensation in a court of law. 

Financial assistance in AFFF cancer lawsuits comes in the form of economic and non-economic damages which reimburse plaintiffs for: 

  • Medical costs – past, present, and future
  • Lost wages and income 
  • Pain and suffering
  • Decreased quality of life 
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Wrongful death 

Although online services and resources claim to offer accurate and immediate estimates, they rarely account for the unique circumstances of a prospective plaintiff’s complaint and claims. The best way in which to determine the value of your AFFF lawsuit is to speak with a qualified AFFF firefighting foam lawyer as soon as possible. 

Contact an Experienced AFFF Lawyer for Your AFFF Claim

The private wells contaminated with PFAS are symptomatic of a much greater chemical crisis in the United States, whose origins lie in the illicit business practices of prominent manufacturers. If you sustained dangerous levels of AFFF exposure and subsequently developed a condition connected with PFAS, we want to help. 

Our experienced firefighting foam cancer lawyers possess considerable knowledge on the complexities of enrolling and participating in multidistrict litigation and boast a proven track record of client success. In a free consultation, we can assist you in determining the eligibility of your claim, calculate the compensation to which you may be entitled, and advise you on how best to proceed. 

We maintain a steadfast commitment to defending consumer rights against the negligence and malfeasance of massive corporations. For more information and advice, consider contacting us today. 


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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