Product News and Recalls

Navy Chemicals May Have Contaminated Drinking Water

cancer cluster fears sparked around navy basesA cluster of illnesses, including cancer, among residents and military personnel at two bases in Pennsylvania is making community leaders question whether chemicals in fire-retardant foam may have contaminated local drinking water sources.

The chemicals; perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), are unregulated and no longer in production. They’re also more common than you might think. Prior to being phased out of use, PFOS/PFOA was used in many household surfaces and substances. Carpet, clothing, furniture materials, and even food packaging contained the chemical compounds that are now suspected of causing a wide variety of illnesses at Willow Grove Naval Air Station and Warminster Naval Air Warfare Center.

Residents and former personnel are, understandably, both worried and angry. “I want answers. Real answers,” says Denise NcNees, the wife of an aviation machinist’s mate who spent 12 years working at Willow Grove. Time has not been kind to her husband, Tim. Since leaving Willow Grove, he’s suffered four aneurysms and lost both of his kidneys to an “unknown” blood-clotting disorder. “I want you to tell me – if it is from the water, then say it’s from the water,” she says.

Non-military personnel are also taking note, as fears that years and years of unregulated chemical use at a military facility could have affected the water sources for the surrounding towns and civilian populations. The Navy claims that it had no idea that the chemicals could be dangerous until the turn of the century. And, once the chemicals were actually proven to be carcinogenic, no tests existed to determine if they were actually present in water samples.

To that end, the director of the Navy’s base closure program management office offers little reassurance. In a statement, he says that “we believe that the water supply that Warminster Township, Horsham Township, and Warrington Township, that they’re providing safe drinking water.”

But, local legislators aren’t so sure. Congressman Todd Stephens, who is raising two children in Horsham, only uses bottled water in his household. And, after more stringent guidelines regarding PFOA/PFOS levels in water were issued by the EPA, the government made free bottled water available to all residents of Horsham, Warminster, and Warrington.

Cities and towns across the country host Navy facilities, research stations, and air bases. And, if the contamination found in the Pennsylvania townships is mirrored elsewhere, millions of people could have a brand new health concern to contend with.