“I know that you can’t bring back three people that I lost, but they’re gone.” This is what retired airman Henry Betz had to say to federal officials during a recent “community engagement session.” The meetings; this one taking place in Horsham, Pennsylvania, are in response to recent revelations that groundwater used by military bases and their surrounding communities throughout the country was contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals known as PFAS. And, to make matters worse, the federal government these people were working to support and uphold knew about the contamination and actively worked to prevent news of the contamination from reaching the people who needed it most.
Families may have been torn apart as a result as loved ones died unexpectedly. In the case of Mr. Betz, that would include his wife and two additional members of his household. For others, the fact that the government is only reaching out after the revelations were publicized has not been lost. “They knew they had seeped into the water, and they didn’t tell anybody about it until it was revealed and they had to,” said another community resident.
Had it been left to some in the current administration, these Americans, and thousands upon thousands more, would still be unaware of how much danger they and their families were exposing themselves to every time they took a sip of water, ran a bath, or enjoyed a shower. That’s because federal regulations on the amounts of chemicals that could safely be allowed were woefully inadequate. In fact, a report was written that showed that while the EPA set a regulatory number for what it was willing to enforce, the actual “safe” amount that could be allowed was one-tenth that of which the agency set forth.
For the Trump White House and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the publicizing of this information did not represent a threat to the health of American families. It did not represent the potential to bring death and disease to families who otherwise may have enjoyed the kinds of lives that we all hope to have for ourselves and those we hold dear. For the administration, the report instead represented a “PR nightmare” and was held in draft status – and thus out of the public eye – for far longer than would have been considered normal for this type of information.
And now that the information has finally been released and regular citizens, as well as the state and local representatives that were kept out of the loop, voice their frustrations with the federal officials being sent to face those they failed to protect, it’s hard to forget that the damage has already been done. It’s hard to forget that it’s impossible to turn back the clock. As one mother said while discussing her toddler daughter when she spoke with the AP for a recent story on the contamination, “It’s in her.”