PFAS pollution from U.S. military installations is reaching the Chesapeake Bay, endangering wildlife, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group. File Photo by Bill Portlock/Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Toxic chemicals from military installations have seeped into the Chesapeake Bay, harming wildlife and threatening food supplies and livelihoods, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Defense records by an environmental watchdog group.
The Environmental Working Group revealed its finding on Wednesday that it had found perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, chemicals known as "PFAS," at nine military installations near the bay. The chemicals have been used by the department in firefighting foams for decades.
Called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in the environment, PFAS elevate the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness.
They can also harm crabs, oysters, rockfish and other wildlife, as well as those that consume them, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The Langley Air Force Base, in Hampton, Va., had the highest levels of chemicals, the group found. However, its analysis of records did not show the presence of the chemicals at several other bases.
Scott Faber, the group's senior vice president for government affairs, described the contamination to The Guardian as an "extremely troubling" health threat to the nation's largest estuary.
"We've seen higher levels in water, but not many ... and it strikes at the heart and, perhaps more importantly, the stomach of everyone who comes from this part of the world," Faber said.
The findings follow a similar study released last year by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that found elevated PFAS levels in fish, crabs and oysters.
The Environmental Working Group has called on the department to hasten its planned cleanup.
The U.S. The Department of Defense has identified 698 military installations where the chemicals were used, a top department official told a congressional subcommittee in May.
Richard Kidd, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy resilience, told lawmakers that it had assessed 129 installations.
Of those, 63 required no further action while the department was proceeding with a remedial investigation and feasibility study for 66.
He said preliminary work on the sites will be completed by 2024 and cleanup will likely take decades.
Kidd estimated the cleanup cost will be over $29 billion. A Government Accountability Office report released in June found the cost will "likely increase significantly" beyond earlier estimates.