Governments Finally Examine ‘Forever Chemicals’ In Our Water

A sign at a protest in California reads, “Clean water.”
Photo: AP

The toxic class of so-called “forever chemicals” is finally getting some much-deserved attention from government officials. The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General will be evaluating the military’s use of PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that the military has used in firefighting foam and have now contaminated groundwater sources near military bases around the country.

The Washington Post reported on agency’s watchdog examination Tuesday. It comes a day after the California Water Resources Board found that nearly 300 drinking water wells and water sources are tainted with the contaminants. More and more states, including Michigan and New Jersey, are finding these chemicals in their drinking water supplies. That’s problematic, and not just because these manmade chemicals can last forever in the environment. PFAS have been linked to cancer, delayed learning abilities in infants and children, and increased cholesterol levels. There’s still lots scientists don’t know about PFAS, but they’ve learned enough to know they pose a danger to human health.

In California, officials tested more than 600 drinking water wells. Some of those wells had PFAS levels lower than expected. The widespread contamination in the state and elsewhere is largely due to firefighting foams military personnel used in both training exercise and emergency responses. Twenty-one military bases in California are facing contamination—the most in any state, per the Los Angeles Times. Now, the Pentagon’s watchdog officials are finally taking a close look at how this mess happened in the first place.

The Office of Inspector General wants to investigate the military’s knowledge of PFAS’s harmful impacts. The office is also set to take a look at how else the military might have been using the chemicals outside of firefighting foam. In the meantime, legislators are slowly working to build transparency with the public around contamination. California is the first state to require utilities to inform customers of any contamination in drinking water systems.

Still, PFAS exposure doesn’t come only from our drinking water. The chemicals have been found in fast food take-out containers. While a study out last week found that eating at home can reduce our exposure, people also face exposure from nonstick pans, microwavable popcorn, and even some carpets and furniture.

PFAS are seemingly everywhere these days, but there’s clearly still a lot we don’t know. This evaluation from government watchdogs should give the public some answers.


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