"That is what we know so far ... and it took an act of Congress to get that much information."

Seep and Destroy

Hundreds of military bases across the US could be polluting nearby water supplies with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a Department of Defense report found — the latest in a growing body of evidence that these so-called "forever chemicals" have contaminated huge portions of the country's drinking water.

An alarming 245 of 275 bases investigated so far are potentially releasing plumes of PFAS "in the proximity of" groundwater aquifers that supply drinking water, according to the report, many of which are classified as sole source aquifers that entire communities depend on.

Should a sole source aquifer be contaminated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, "there are no reasonably available alternative drinking water sources" for those communities.

What the levels of contamination could be or exactly how the pollution is occurring remains unanswered. Which communities are at risk is also unconfirmed. In other words, what the DoD is telling us doesn't quite paint a clear picture. It seems certain, though, that the initial figure is set to climb even further as the DoD eventually investigates all 707 installations outlined in its report.

"A good neighbor would let you know that their use of PFAS was the reason your water was contaminated, and a bad neighbor would only tell you: 'Hey, a plume is heading in your direction,'" Scott Faber at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) told The Guardian.

"That is what we know so far because that's all the DoD told us, and it took an act of Congress to get that much information," he added.

PFAS Are Forever

PFAS are called "forever chemicals" because many of them persist for hundreds if not thousands of years before degrading. The substances are typically used to make water, heat, and stain resistant products, and are considered toxic to humans. Although their effects are not fully understood, PFAS have been linked to cancer and birth defects.

Ongoing research continues to illustrate just how pervasive the chemicals are. One recent study conducted by the US Geological Survey estimated that nearly half of all tap water in the US is contaminated with PFAS.

Scientists have for years worried about the obscene amounts of PFAS contamination at military bases, but we're only now beginning to understand the extent of the impact. According to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, as of August the DoD has released data indicating that 455 of its bases have confirmed detections of PFAS in their drinking water.

In other words, this latest report is just a peek at just how much the contamination is seeping into civilian water supplies — and even then, what it divulges is maddeningly vague.

"Communities around the facilities must be really frustrated because they in all likelihood are drinking from wells that are contaminated by the military, but the DoD is coming up short," Faber told The Guardian. "Inevitably we will get answers for these questions as we move through the process."

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