Uniting for Justice: Community Advocates Gather in DC to Address Department of Defense Contamination


U.S. Advocates Impacted by Toxic Contamination Meet in DC

Advocates across the nation are connecting and learning that government agencies meant to protect the environment and public health has failed to safeguard natural resources and track disease clusters plaguing their neighborhoods and hundreds of other US communities. These families are coming together to hold agencies accountable for doing their job.

According to consumer reports, more than 25 million Americans drink from the worst water systems in the nation. Many Americans are unaware of dangerous contaminants that are unregulated and allowed in public water systems across the United States. People will continue to see widespread contamination situations with deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of environmental regulations.

From contaminated water to soil and air, these communities were forced to do the job of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their state health departments as they fell sick and began to uncover the negligence of polluting industries surrounding their homes. When corporations self-report their data and pollution "spills" and have input over the EPA and other agency decision-making processes, it's the fox guarding the hen house.

Hundreds of advocates and their families met in Freedom Plaza to recount their heart-wrenching stories of how industry pollution has impacted their communities. They traveled to Washington, DC, to tell agencies that it was time to protect people, not industries.

Hawaii Red Hill Water Contamination

One of those communities is in Hawaii, where the U.S. Navy's fuel storage facility poisoned nearly 100,000 residents, sending thousands to seek medical help after suffering from petroleum exposure.

For months, pregnant women, children, service members, and pets experienced dizziness, breathing difficulties, vomiting, headaches, and rashes. The Navy denied the dangers despite sickening thousands, including their family and friends. A month after the fuel contaminated the drinking water, the Navy agreed to stop the leaking tanks. Since 1943, it is estimated that 200,000 gallons of fuel have leaked from the Red Hill facility.

A study revealed that the tanks could have chronic leaks releasing up to 5,800 gallons of fuel annually. Despite these warning signs, the facility chose to continue operating the facility making minimal improvements, leading to the catastrophic leak in 2021.

Mandy Feindt is a U.S. Army major who has dealt with the health effects of leaked jet fuel. Feindt has served on active duty for the past 16 years, with overseas tours, including to Afghanistan. In November of 2021, Feindt was impacted by Department of Defense contamination after jet fuel leaked into the drinking water in Oahu, Hawaii. Her one-year-old son experienced chemical burns on the lower half of his body from bathing. Her four-year-old daughter was diagnosed with neurological conditions after unknowingly drinking and bathing in the contaminated water. Feindt is one of the thousands of military members and their dependents impacted by Department of Defense contamination across the nation.

The Hawaii jet fuel contamination is one example of how self-regulation doesn't work. The Navy was aware it got into the groundwater and failed to notify the public after losing nearly 14,000 gallons of jet fuel. In fact, the Navy issued a notification stating;

"There are no signs or indication of any releases to the environment, and the drinking water remains safe."
One month later, sampling showed petroleum levels were 350 times above the safe drinking water limit.

Department of Defense Contamination

The United States military uses almost 21 billion liters of fuel every year, and Hawaii isn't the first or only incident of fuel leaks. In 2014, a defense contractor spilled jet fuel at Fort Hood and then lied about it to investigators. 94,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled in Virginia Beach at the Naval Air Station Oceana Bulk Fuel Farm in 2017. Kirtland Air Force Base had the largest toxic spill in the history of the U.S. as jet fuel leaked into soil and groundwater for decades, an estimated 24 million gallons.

The Department of Defense is one of the country's largest polluters. The lack of accountability, reporting, and data makes it challenging to track their environmental impact. They create 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year in depleted uranium, oil, jet fuels, pesticides, leads, and other chemicals, according to MPN reports.

Military Bases Across the Nation Impacted

The city of Tuscon, Arizona, found that the Air Force had been dumping industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) into the water for 29 years resulting in over 1,300 cases of cancer and illnesses. From 1953 to 1987, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina contaminated the groundwater with harmful chemicals that impacted service members and families with numerous ailments. In Colfax, LA, the military burn toxic waste several times daily with no environmental emissions control. Federal data shows that military bases in Hawaii dumped more than half a million pounds of nitrate compounds into the ocean in 2019.

Water supplies in areas around military bases across the nation are contaminated, with the most recent catastrophe coming from firefighting foam. The DoD used Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) for decades and knew that PFAS chemicals were harmful to the environment, wildlife, and human health but continued to use dangerous levels of these toxic chemicals.

Nationwide Contamination of PFAS Chemicals

Nearly all Americans have some exposure to PFAS, and these chemicals have been found in water supplies across the country. Since the 1940's PFAS have been manufactured and used in industrial applications and firefighting. PFAS doesn't break down in the environment, can move through the soil, contaminate drinking water, and are very persistent in the environment and the human body. Exposure to these chemicals has adverse reproductive, developmental, and immunological effects. Millions of Americans are exposed to PFAS-contaminated water, and the EPA failed to take action for 20 years after being made aware of the health hazards of these toxic fluorinated chemicals in 1998.

Formerly Used Defense Sites Across the U.S.

Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) are properties owned by the Department of Defense before October 1986 and are being cleaned up for environmental contamination. Many of the contaminated properties end up becoming parks and, in some cases, subdivisions. After decades of high disease rates and residents uncovering military debris in their yards South Patrick Shores in Florida received a Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) designation. It took over thirty years to get the investigation, and homes built on top of the landfill are potentially dealing with vapor intrusion. 

Stel Bailey

Stel Bailey, a cancer cluster survivor and environmental health advocate, is a researcher and journalist with more than two decades of multimedia experience, having been published globally.

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