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'Forever chemicals' used at San Diego military bases, contaminated groundwater to be addressed at hearing

For years, PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals" because they never break down, were used by military firefighters on hundreds of bases across the country.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A dangerous chemical used on San Diego military bases has contaminated groundwater and, according to a federal report, officials didn’t immediately warn servicemembers or local communities once they found out about the problem. 

“It's outrageous to hear the stories from service members who raised their families near contaminated bases and didn't know about the danger until their children got sick,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA)

He’s talking about PFAS. They are fire‑resistant, man‑made chemicals that repel oil, grease, and water. They are also known as "forever chemicals" because they never break down. For years, they were used by military firefighters on hundreds of bases across the country because foam containing PFAS is extremely effective against fires.

But according to an Inspector General report, the military has known for more than a decade that PFAS chemicals could cause a myriad of health problems - including cancer, fertility issues, and a decreased response to vaccines. Despite that knowledge, they continued to use them anyway. 

“For years and years we've known the military's heavy use of PFAS-based firefighting foam has impacted service members, their families and surrounding communities,” Padilla said. “Now we have proof that the Department of Defense knew about these risks.”

Making a bad situation worse, these dangerous chemicals can get into the groundwater. At Camp Pendleton, they were detected in drinking water as recently as 2019. NAS North Island has repeatedly tested positive for environmental contamination. 

“NAS North Island - where PFOA has been found at over 2,300 parts per trillion and there are many other types of PFAS that have been found at similar levels,” said Jared Hayes, a policy analyst with Environmental Working Group.

EWG suspects other bases in our county also have contamination but don't have the testing to prove it. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has a hearing Thursday to question the Department of Defense. Among their concerns - how many bases have contamination and what's going to be done to clean them up?

“So tomorrow we'll press the Department of Defense on these failures and ask how they plan to complete the work of testing and cleaning up these bases because military communities can't wait any longer,” Padilla said.