Is Firefighting Foam Making You Sick?

About 785 million people around the globe lack clean drinking water. That's according to the World Health Organization.

And at least 2 billion of the world's population rely on a drinking water source contaminated with feces.

Most of the worst case scenarios are occurring in third-world countries. But America also has its share of water problems.

Decades ago we tried to legislate our way out of this dilemma. With the Clean Water Act of 1972. Then the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. And the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. But nearly 50 years later, the problems still persist.

Water Infrastructure Still Ailing

During the 1990s, Henry Cisneros traveled to 200 U.S. cities in all 50 states. He was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Cisneros witnessed many problems with the country's infrastructure.

But the one he pointed out most frequently was the water issue. "One of the most consistent and distressing problems I saw firsthand was the inadequacy of water infrastructure throughout the country," he said.

As our water distribution systems continued to age, things kept getting worse. Most of the eastern half of the U.S. has systems with an average pipe age of 50 years.

Many of these pipes are made with lead. Older houses also have lead water pipes. Pipe joints have lead solder. And brass faucet fixtures also contain lead. When pipe deposits break free, small particles of lead make their way into drinking water.

Firefighting Foam Contaminants

Lead in water is a serious problem. But it's hardly the only contaminant in our water supplies. Microscopic plastic fibers are another major concern.

Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are toxic chemicals. They've been found in the tap water in more than half of the states.

These chemicals have non stick properties used in many products through the years. Including cookware, food packaging and outdoor clothing.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have entered the water supply. That's after decades of use on nearby military bases. Especially in connection with firefighting foam used on those bases.

Bottled Water a Stopgap Measure

If you're thinking that PFAS contaminants is an old story, I have bad news for you. Yes, it's been going on for a while. But late last month, the Associated Press reported high levels of PFAS at Luke Air Force Base. It's located near Phoenix, Arizona.

The chemicals have also been discovered in the drinking water in 1,600 nearby homes. And some businesses. As many as 6,000 people were drinking that water. As suspected, the chemicals came from firefighting foam.

In response, the Air Force is distributing bottled water to thousands of residents. They've been told their tap water is safe for bathing and laundry. But that bottled water should be used for drinking and cooking.

Those deliveries are expected to continue. At least until a long-term water filtration facility can be established. Hopefully next month.

No PFAS Regulations

The contamination was found during tests of water from the Valley Utilities Water Company. The utility claims its water meets all EPA and Arizona drinking water standards.

The sad thing is, this may be true. That's because PFAS are not regulated by federal or state environmental agencies.

There was another recent occurrence of these toxic chemicals in drinking water. It's been connected to the old Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, Arizona.

The base is now the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. And the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus.

Serious Health Concerns

The specific chemicals found are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They've been linked to cancer and birth defects. That's according to the EPA, which says these chemicals stay in the body for long periods of time.

So far, no PFOS or PFOA contamination has been found in Mesa-area homes and businesses. That's according to an Air Force Civil Engineer Center spokesperson.

And that's good news for the large neighborhoods surrounding the airport and campus.

Groundwater near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport showed contamination. At levels more than 30 times the EPA's lifetime health advisory.

A Widespread Problem

This same problem has occurred on many other military bases. And surrounding areas. Including Colorado Springs, Colorado and New Mexico.

In 2019, New Mexico sued the U.S. Air Force. That was over contaminations occurring at the Cannon and Holloman air bases.

The state claims contaminants migrated into public and private wells. Those wells provide drinking water for homes, businesses and livestock. The contaminants also went into irrigation water.

Those states are hardly alone. The Environmental Working Group confirmed this. PFAS is in the tap water or groundwater at 328 military installations.

The Time Is Now to Filter Our Tap Water

You may be thinking, I'm glad I don't live near a military base. But that doesn't mean you don't have contaminants in your drinking water.

Contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and parasites are everywhere. Nitrate and nitrite are found in chemical fertilizers and human sewage. Many heavy metals leach into drinking water through plumbing and service lines. Those are just a few.

We should be filtering water coming out of our faucets. Don't wait until your city becomes another Flint, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey. Then it's too late. You owe it to your peace of mind to ensure you always have clean, pure water to drink.

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