Military service entails countless risks, from permanent hearing loss to severe combat injuries. Still, a more obscure health threat to service members is toxic exposure, which occurs at nearly all military bases across the country at the moment. Over 700 military installations are now contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” due to their ability to remain in the environment and the human body for a long time. Exposure to these harmful substances can result in a myriad of serious health problems, from kidney disease and liver damage to fertility issues and high cholesterol. It can also cause kidney and testicular cancer. The source of PFAS on military bases is firefighters and trainees using the fire suppressant AFFF, which sometimes contains 98% “forever chemicals.”
Home to 21 military bases, Florida has a veteran population of 1,430,000. Patrick Air Force Base is one of the most contaminated military facilities in the state, with a PFAS concentration in the environment of 4,338,000 parts per trillion, which eclipses the EPA’s new safe exposure limit by a whopping 1,084,500 times. The military base was established in 1940 and is located between Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach in Brevard County. Because other toxic substances might have been used at Patrick Air Force Base, today, the drinking water supply of Cocoa, which serves 294,039 residents, contains six contaminants over the maximum permissible limit, among which are chromium, arsenic, radium, and trihalomethanes. Therefore, the health of the residents consuming the water is also at risk, as exposure to these contaminants can cause various cancers.
Another military base in Florida with a high “forever chemicals” level in the environment is Eglin Air Force Base, which was founded in 1935 and located in Okaloosa County. The PFAS concentration at this military installation is 552,200 parts per trillion, exceeding the safe exposure limit by 138,050 times. Similarly, other dangerous chemicals might have been present at Eglin Air Force Base because, currently, the drinking water source of Fort Walton Beach, a nearby city that serves 76,205 residents, is contaminated with four harmful substances, including radium and trihalomethanes. While the health of residents drinking toxic water is at risk, the people who are most likely to develop serious illnesses due to toxic exposure are service members training at Florida’s military bases.
Because the VA does not recognize the connection between PFAS exposure at military bases and the numerous health issues it is responsible for, veterans encounter many obstacles in accessing the benefits they are entitled to. However, the situation might change in the near future, as the VET PFAS Act was proposed by Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman on July 17, 2023. If this bill was signed into law, it would provide for a presumption of service connection for veterans who were stationed at military bases at which they were exposed to “forever chemicals.” Furthermore, the VET PFAS Act would offer hospital care and medical services to veterans and dependents who lived at military installations where they were exposed to PFAS. This bill would be of tremendous help to veterans who struggle financially with the high cost of cancer treatment.
For instance, the monthly treatment cost of prostate cancer, one of the most common malignant diseases in veterans, can reach $2,800, which, in the absence of VA benefits, is unaffordable for a lot of veterans. If the VET PFAS Act became law, we might also witness a decrease in the large number of premature deaths occurring in veterans affected by toxic exposure.
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