If terrorists came to this country and poisoned thousands of men and women in the military, it would be a national crisis, and we’d all be ready to fight. But what happens when the terrorists doing the poisoning are actually the U.S. government?
The Trump administration has been desperately trying to hide this scandal from the American people. They feared that it would be a “public relations nightmare.” But the truth always has a way of coming out eventually.
A major federal study has concluded that contaminated ground water at U.S. military bases across the country was even more toxic than the government originally thought. But Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt pressured the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) not to release the findings.
Politico reported in May that an unidentified White House aide said,
“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge. The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”
So the study was not released. Until now.
On Wednesday, the ATSDR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, quietly released a 852-page report on perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, which are chemicals used in nearly everything. According to ProPublica, “The report offers the most comprehensive gathering of information on the effects of these chemicals today, and suggests they’re far more dangerous than previously thought.”
“These chemical compounds pose health risks to millions of Americans. They’re in roughly 1 percent of the nation’s public water supply, according to the EPA; in roughly 1,500 drinking water systems across the country, according to the Environmental Working Group. People who drink from these systems, even if their exposure to PFAS is low, now have a potentially increased risk of cancer; of disruptions in hormones and the immune system; and of complications with fetal development during pregnancy.”
Military personnel and veterans are particularly at risk because PFAS chemicals are found in firefighting foams, which have been used at military bases since the 1970s for training exercises. Those toxic foams have seeped into the groundwater at the bases, including into their drinking water supplies.
“The DOD has reported widespread contamination at its bases and posts, as well as their surrounding areas. In a March report to the House Armed Services Committee, the department provided a list of 126 military facilities where nearby water supplies contained PFAS levels above the EPA’s standard, and 36 bases with drinking water contamination on site. “In all, 25 Army bases; 50 Air Force bases, 49 Navy or Marine Corps bases and two Defense Logistics Agency sites have tested at higher than acceptable levels for the compounds in either their drinking water or groundwater sources,” the Military Times reported.
The EPA had been assuring people who lived on these bases that they were safe from the potentially harmful effects of PFAS—which range in severity from weight gain to liver disease to cancer—at levels of 70 parts per trillion. But the new ATSDR study says safe levels were actually much lower, from 7 to 11 parts per trillion.”
Melanie Benesch, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group told the New Republic, “It’s [a] pretty pervasive problem. It’s getting into the groundwater and tap water on bases, so people living on base are of course affected.” And, because these toxins can remain in the body for 6-10 years, she added, “Veterans who have since moved off likely continue to have it in their bodies.”
And this problem has been compounded because Trump tried to hide these findings for so long.
Benesch said, “It was ready six months ago. Six months that the government agency responsible for setting these levels, for doing the toxicology, was not able to provide us with their findings.”
Benesch said that providing the study earlier would’ve forced the EPA to change regulations sooner. She also points out that, by denying the truth to the families living on military bases, they continued the poisoning of pregnant women and children.
“What, then, did the study’s temporary suppression achieve for Trump and Pruitt? It bought some time for the chemical manufacturers that support them, so they can prepare for the inevitable onslaught of personal injury lawsuits related to PFAS contamination. It also delayed public pressure to increase government spending on environmental cleanups at military bases and on updating rural water infrastructure. But the study’s delay may not have achieved what Trump and Pruitt most wanted it to. Let the public relations nightmare begin.”