The new Secretary of Defense says he wants to review how chemicals in firefighting foam contaminated groundwater near military bases nationwide, including in Bucks and Montgomery counties. Locals active on the issue are skeptical if it will lead to action.
In his first day officially as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper created a Pentagon task force to address health and other problems associated with dangerous contaminants at more than 400 military installations. He says he will take an “aggressive and holistic” approach to cleaning up compounds known as PFAS and reviewing their health effects.
Hope Grosse, co-founder of the Bucks-Mont Coalition for Safer Water, who grew up across the street from the former Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster says it’s time for the Department of Defense to pay for the contamination.
“It’s too little, too late! Make the polluter pay, the polluter is the [Department of Defense] where I live and it’s over 400 sites in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.” she said. “I’m sick and tired of hearing how much money they are spending when there is no transparency involved in this process, the transparency is very cloudy and very concerning.”
Environmental attorney Mark Cuker, who’s also involved in the coalition, says he is hoping the commitment from Esper is sincere.
“They act like they are concerned, they give the impression that they are doing something but we have seen very little in the way of results so far that simply cannot continue and maybe this secretary of the [Department of Defense] recognizes that this cannot continue. They really do need to deal with this because it’s going to become more wide-spread and intractable as long as they keep kicking this can down the road,” Cuker said.
Cuker says the military hasn’t controlled its discharges off the Willow Grove Air Force base.
“Although the governor of Pennsylvania and the state legislature asked them to provide blood testing to residents who drank polluted water for years, they have refused to do that and that’s why I have had to file lawsuits over these things,” he said.
Formally called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are found in firefighting foam used at military bases and are in a wide range of nonstick and stain-resistant consumer products. First made after World War II, the compounds have been called “forever chemicals” because they are expected to take hundreds or thousands of years to break up. Federal authorities say the compounds appear linked to certain cancers and other health and developmental problems.