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  • I'll take you out on the dock.

  • For me, you know, it's a life of crabs and fishing and chickens and oysters

  • and PFAS contamination.

  • Go figure.

  • I actually picked up my morning paper one day and saw a headline that said

  • the next Flint may be in northern Michigan, or something like that.

  • And I thought oh boy that's really bad and then they had a pictureit

  • was a picture of my lake.

  • These training facilities would spray this firefighting foam where

  • it'd wash into the ground, wash into a nearby stream and it's actually

  • soaked into the ground and contaminated groundwater and surface water in

  • most bases across the country.

  • The military's use of a firefighting foam with the intention to save lives

  • could have dire consequences for the people who handled it and the people

  • who live nearby.

  • Now, communities are wondering what it means for their health and their

  • homes, snd who's responsible to clean it all up.

  • The investigations are tangled up in politics and national security.

  • The chemicals in the foam itself are the subject of corporate lawsuits,

  • scientific discovery and an ongoing threat to human health.

  • We know the anecdote that the Roman Empire went down because of lead

  • poisoning.

  • But the PFAS, I didn't, I mean myself,

  • I didn't know until about 10 or 12 years ago that this was something that I

  • might have to worry about.

  • The U.S.

  • military has used a firefighting foam called AFFF since the late 60s.

  • It's good at putting out jet fuel fires really fast.

  • But over the past couple decades, scientists have found that one of the

  • chemical compounds that makes AFFF so effective might also be poisoning

  • the people who live and work in and around the bases that use it.

  • The chemicals at the center of it all are called PFAS, short for per- or

  • poly-fluoroalkyl substances. Think of PPAS like the umbrella term for

  • hundreds of these chemical compounds that are based on fluorine-carbon

  • bonds. The most common ones are PFOS and PFOA.

  • What make PFAS so useful in manufacturing is how the chemicals fit

  • together. The fluorine atoms just so happened to fit perfectly around the

  • carbon atoms to create a bond that resists things like heat, oil and

  • water.

  • And so that's actually what's led to a lot of the contamination issues.

  • PFAS don't occur naturally in the environment.

  • The chemical compounds were invented by scientists in the late 30s early

  • 40s. Then came two of the most widely used inventions that were made with

  • PFAS: Teflon and Scotchgard.

  • Those product lines have revolutionized home cooking and cleaning along

  • with the chemical industry itself.

  • Today PFAS are used in a ton of products, from raincoats to waterproof

  • shoes, non-stick pots and pans, microwave popcorn bags and even cosmetics.

  • But over the last few decades, companies have had to shell out hundreds of

  • millions of dollars in settlements over PFAS contamination stemming from

  • manufacturing. 3M, DuPont and Chemguard settled these multimillion dollar

  • cases without admitting any wrongdoing.

  • The producers have said all there's absolutely no risk and they're not

  • dangerous, they're so stable.

  • But that's exactly the problem.

  • That's Phillipe Grandjean, one of the world's leading PFAS researchers.

  • Documents that have been made available in legal cases involving 3M and

  • DuPont show the companies had been studying the health effects of PFAS for

  • decades. One document is a 1999 resignation letter from a 3M environmental

  • specialist saying his resignation was prompted by his "profound

  • disappointment" in the company's handling of risks associated with PFOS.

  • In another instance, Bucky Bailey, the son of a former DuPont factory

  • worker who worked in the Teflon division, was born with one nostril and a

  • deformed eye.

  • He's been outspoken about PFAS contamination, though the C8 Science Panel

  • could not conclude his deformities were linked to PFAS.

  • Chemours, which was spun off from DuPont in 2015, told CNBC it does not

  • currently use PFOA or PFOS in any of its manufacturing processes.

  • And 3M announced the phase out of the two PFAS compounds in 2000.

  • To make sense of how the military fits into all of this, I called Dr.

  • Stephen TerMaath, an Air Force official working on the cleanup of

  • PFAS contamination at the Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan.

  • Active duty soldiers left the base in the 90s, but contamination from past

  • firefighting activity is still there.

  • Today Wurtsmith is home to housing complexes, local businesses and a giant

  • filter that's working to remove PFAS from the water.

  • Meanwhile, active military bases across the country are still using AFFF

  • that contains PFAS, even though the military recognizes its dangers.

  • That's because technically, they're required to.

  • Other countries like Australia have started to roll out fluorine-free

  • alternatives.

  • The U.S.

  • Navy said it's working on developing a new PFAS-free formula and

  • minimizing the additional release of the foam into the environment.

  • Service members who have already been exposed to AFFF are trying to put

  • the pieces together.

  • I talked with James Bussey, an Air Force veteran who was stationed at

  • Wurtsmith from 1989 to 1992.

  • The Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University have been

  • mapping out all of the known PFAS contamination sites across the U.S.

  • As of July 2019, there were more than 700 locations across 49 states.

  • 175 of those were military bases.

  • The contamination at the hundreds of other locations were found at public

  • water systems, airports, industrial plants and firefighter training sites.

  • And there have been reports of PFAS contamination on military bases in

  • other countries too.

  • But for this video we're just going to focus on how it's affecting people

  • in the U.S.

  • Exposure to the chemical compound has been linked to some pretty serious

  • health problems

  • like miscarriages, thyroid disease even cancer.

  • These compounds, once they get into the body, they stay there.

  • And they stay there for a very very long time, perhaps even decades for

  • some of them.

  • And that is precisely what makes me worry that they can cause adverse

  • effects in the long run, not just a matter of short-term poisoning.

  • James had his blood tested for six types of PFAS in 2018.

  • Despite not working with AFFF for more than two decades, his test results

  • showed one type of PFAS commonly used in firefighting foam at levels more

  • than three times the national average.

  • The VA has not been able to definitively link this to any of his health

  • conditions.

  • The communities who live around military bases are feeling the impact of

  • PFAS contamination too.

  • Water is huge.

  • If you looked at an aerial map you will see it's Lake Huron, it's

  • Van Etten Lake, it's the Au Sauble River.

  • So for recreational purposes, for sustainability purposes, people live off

  • the fish and the wildlife there.

  • So it's, I mean, if you take away the water

  • in Oscoda, you take away Oscoda.

  • Since PFAS don't naturally break down in the environment, the chemicals are

  • still being found in the water from AFFF use in the 70s, 80s and early

  • 90s.

  • Tony's lake house across from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base falls

  • within the lines of what's been designated a zone of

  • concern.

  • It wasn't until 2016 that some Oscoda residents were first told not to

  • drink the groundwater.

  • That's when it first really was big time on my radar screen.

  • Residents whose well water was contaminated were given bottled water and

  • reverse osmosis filtration systems to use under their kitchen sink.

  • We have been told that we can't eat the fish from the river.

  • We've been told that we can't eat venison from deer harvested within a

  • five mile radius essentially of the base.

  • We've been told if you live in this zone of concern that you shouldn't

  • drink your drinking water.

  • We have swept these things under the rug for far too long, for decades, for

  • convenience, for short term profit.

  • We're paying the piper now.

  • For the people who swam in the lake and drank the water the fallout is

  • still unknown.

  • People don't like to advertise their health problems.

  • No one does.

  • What I've seen in Oscoda is a lot of folks who are living in a kind of

  • silent desperation.

  • As a citizen activist nearby I wanted to find out if there was any

  • documented PFAS exposure to the people in this community, including me

  • because I'm only four or five miles away from the potential plume.

  • It's possible.

  • Exactly how far PFAS can travel in the environment has been debated.

  • Scientists say it's anywhere from a few miles to all the way across the

  • world.

  • Just hop on the boat and you know you go right around here and ride about

  • 10 minutes you're in the bay and another 10 minutes, you get to a point on

  • a slightly cloudy day you can't see land.

  • I mean it's huge.

  • You know there's just so much water here.

  • It's very much a part of things.

  • The Patuxent River Naval Air Base near Pat wasn't listed in the Department

  • of Defense's official report of those 401 bases suspected of releasing

  • PFAS.

  • However Navy documents show levels of PFAS in the groundwater at roughly 16

  • times higher than the EPA's lifetime health advisory.

  • The Patuxent River Naval Air Base said it wasn't listed in the main DOD

  • report because its final test results weren't made public in time for its

  • publication. The Navy said it didn't notify its residents on base because

  • it says it doesn't affect drinking water and it's not nearby residential

  • housing. It has yet to schedule follow up testing to see if that

  • contaminated groundwater at Site 34 has spread.

  • There is no current plan to clean up the contamination.

  • We've got people living adjacent to where these buried containers with

  • PFAS were. We're not testing their water.

  • Why not?

  • So I wrote a letter.

  • And the response was, you know, we trust the federal government.

  • We trust the Navy to do what's right.

  • And it's signed by a public health official in the state of Maryland.

  • And that's not good enough for me.

  • When we asked why the people who live off-base weren't notified or didn't

  • have their water tested, a spokesperson said it's because there is a very

  • low risk of exposure.

  • At other bases across the country, service members are wondering what

  • impact AFFF might have had on them.

  • Reporting by The Military Times has found some women were told not to get

  • pregnant on base.

  • On another base, 16 cases of cancer in one family.

  • Now they're all questioning whether PFAS in the water was to blame.

  • It's the multibillion dollar question: who is ultimately responsible for

  • PFAS contamination and how much would it cost to clean up?

  • Many place some of the blame on the EPA for its bureaucracy and out-of-date

  • chemical regulatory system.

  • There's currently at least, as of last count, the EPA noted over 600 PFAS

  • chemicals were in active use in the last decade.

  • And so doing a single chemical by chemical regulatory approach would take

  • many lifetimes on that many chemicals.

  • Even the military said the EPA's lack of regulation is making it hard to

  • start planning its cleanup program.

  • And while the Pentagon is investing hundreds of millions in investigations

  • and temporary fixes, it's just a Band-Aid for a bigger problem.

  • Coming up with a plan to actually get rid of PFAS in the environment?

  • That's where things get tricky.

  • As of June 2019, the military has no actual plans to clean up the

  • contamination. And at this pace to even start that process could take

  • years. Not to mention billions of dollars.

  • For the communities involved, it's all moving way too slow.

  • Our regulators need to get their heads out of the sand and listen to what

  • these people have to say.

  • But to understand the layers of political and legal drama unfolding today,

  • it's important to understand what the U.S.

  • has deemed illegal when it comes to PFAS.

  • In short, not much.

  • Some states are starting to develop their own guidelines.

  • But there is no single legally enforceable drinking water standard for

  • PFAS across the country.

  • The EPA has issued something called a lifetime health advisory for PFAS at

  • 70 parts per trillion.

  • That's such a minuscule amount of PFAS, most people have no frame of

  • reference for how much that actually is.

  • Think of it this way, 70 parts per trillion has been likened to a few

  • drops of PFAS in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

  • Essentially, that's how much the EPA says a human can safely drink

  • throughout their lifetime.

  • But it's just a suggestion, not a regulation and not legally enforceable.

  • The water near some military bases has reached levels much higher than the

  • EPA's health advisory.

  • In Louisiana, PFAS levels have reached more than 10 million parts per

  • trillion.

  • The military isn't denying its role spreading AFFF.

  • When we reached out to the Pentagon for comment a spokesperson said the

  • department takes its cleanup responsibilities seriously.

  • The EPA said it would propose a regulatory determination for PFOA and

  • PFOS by the end of the year and that it's in the process of listing PFOA

  • and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA.

  • But as it stands now, different states have different rules.

  • And depending on those rules, the military may have to spend a lot more

  • money to clean things up.

  • In Oscoda alone, the Air Force has already spent millions on PFAS.

  • We've invested $88.9

  • million at Wurtsmith. And the PFOS/PFOA to date

  • is $14.9

  • million. And we anticipate the cleanup activities at Wurtsmith costing

  • another $190 million.

  • That's just one single base out of the more than 400 and counting.

  • There's another layer of complexity when it comes to U.S.

  • military bases.