Aug 30, 2021
Groundwater near at least nine military bases and installations near the Chesapeake Bay is contaminated with dangerous levels of PFAS chemicals and has entered the Bay itself, according to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group.
These chemicals are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms. This gives them the useful qualities of being resistant to water, oil, and heat. Starting in the 1940s, manufacturers used PFAS chemicals to make non-stick pots and flame-resistant clothing and carpets, and in automobiles, construction materials, and electronics. The military used them in firefighting foam.
More recently, oil companies mixed them with water pumped into the ground to force out oil or gas: “fracking.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved this use of PFAS in fracking a decade ago.
But the resistant qualities also mean PFAS chemicals do not break down in the environment. Scientists call them “forever chemicals.” They actually accumulate in the food chain, as plants are eaten by animals and then by people. And they are toxic, raising cholesterol levels and causing tumors, kidney and liver problems, and reproductive, developmental, and immunological effects in animals—and most likely in people too.
Over 41,000 industrial sites across the country could be leaking PFAS. More than half the people in the U.S. live over groundwater possibly contaminated by PFAS, especially in the Midwest.
The EPA knew the risks, as did many manufacturers. But for the bosses, there were profitable sales to be made.