Environmental Battles of 3 US Military Bases with Severe Contamination Issues

The legacy of military activities often leaves indelible marks on the environment, with some bases bearing the burden of severe contamination. Across the United States, several military installations grapple with the consequences of past practices, facing challenges ranging from toxic chemicals to radioactive materials.

In this article, we will look into the environmental battles of three such US military bases, each confronting unique yet equally significant contamination issues.

Fallon Naval Air Station: Battling PFA Contamination

Nestled in the arid landscapes of Nevada, the Fallon Naval Air Station faces a unique environmental battle. It revolves around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS, ubiquitous in firefighting foams and industrial applications, have infiltrated the base’s soil and groundwater, triggering widespread concerns over water quality and public health.

Groundwater samples from the base revealed alarming levels of PFAS, as reported by EWG. One sample registered over 1,000,000 ppts of combined PFOA and PFOS, ranking it as the 16th highest detection among all military installations. This detection level exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended lifetime health advisory for combined PFOA and PFOS by nearly 15,000 times.

Additionally, Navy testing records indicate the presence of eight other types of PFAS in the groundwater at Fallon, some at remarkably high levels.

The contamination crisis at Fallon Naval Air Station stems from decades of PFAS usage in firefighting training exercises. These persistent chemicals have leached into the environment, contaminating drinking water sources and raising alarms among nearby communities. Adverse health effects linked to PFAS exposure, including cancer and developmental disorders, have intensified calls for urgent action.

Consequently, numerous military personnel have initiated legal actions against manufacturers and government authorities, TruLaw notes. They allege a failure to implement proactive cleanup measures in response to the findings and the alleged link between PFAS and cancer.

The AFFF lawsuit for Navy professionals sheds light on the allegations that negligence resulted in severe health hazards for thousands of personnel. 

Fort Ord: The Toxic Menace of Abandoned Lands

Fort Ord was one of the nation’s largest training bases for light infantry during much of the 20th century. It shaped over a million U.S. Army soldiers in combat skills amid the scenic coastal dunes of central California. 

As the Cold War era ended, the realization dawned that the vast military infrastructure designed for Soviet combat was no longer necessary. This led to the closure of Fort Ord, along with 800 other U.S. military bases, between 1988 and 2005. 

The closure left behind a ghost town in the cities of Seaside and Marina, California. They were burdened with dilapidated barracks and aging concrete structures beyond their means to demolish.

Moreover, the legacy of Fort Ord extended beyond its abandoned buildings. It included hazardous remnants such as unexploded ordnance, lead residues, and industrial toxins scattered across the base. 

Despite promises of restoration and conversion for civilian use, cleanup efforts progressed slowly, with some estimates projecting remediation work to continue until 2084. The financial burden of making the land suitable for development has strained local governments as costs escalate far beyond initial projections. 

Government Accountability Office reports show cleanup costs for closed bases surged from $43 billion to $65 billion, highlighting significant challenges and unforeseen expenses. 

The Pentagon claims savings of $12 billion annually from base closures, as reported by The New York Times. However, uncertainties persist regarding the accuracy of these figures, underscoring the complexities and shortcomings of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Camp Lejeune: The Tragic Legacy of Water Contamination

Located in North Carolina, Camp Lejeune stands as a testament to the devastating consequences of water contamination. For decades, numerous military personnel and their families stationed at the base were inadvertently exposed to harmful chemicals present in their drinking water.

The contamination at Camp Lejeune stemmed from industrial activities and improper waste disposal practices. These led to the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous substances into the groundwater. Tragically, the contamination went unchecked for years, resulting in widespread health complications, including cancers, birth defects, and neurological disorders among residents and former personnel.

A recent report by AP News highlights findings regarding military personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1975 to 1985. It reveals they faced at least a 20% higher risk of various cancers compared to those stationed elsewhere. 

This research is described by federal health officials as one of the largest studies ever conducted in the United States. It compared groups living and working in a polluted environment with similar groups in cleaner environments.

The study revealed that military personnel stationed at Camp Lejeune had elevated risks for certain types of leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers. These included those affecting the lungs, breast, throat, esophagus, and thyroid. 

In the wake of the crisis, extensive investigations and legal battles ensued, culminating in efforts to provide medical care and compensation to affected individuals. Additionally, remediation efforts have focused on cleaning up contaminated sites and implementing stricter environmental regulations to prevent future incidents.


What are AFFF lawsuits?

AFFF lawsuits are legal actions filed by individuals or communities affected by PFAS contamination resulting from the use of firefighting foam. These lawsuits typically target manufacturers of AFFF products, government entities responsible for their use, or both, seeking compensation for damages and remediation costs.

What is the Camp Lejeune lawsuit?

The Camp Lejeune lawsuit refers to legal actions initiated by individuals and families affected by the contamination of drinking water. This occurred at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The contamination resulted in adverse health effects for residents and military personnel stationed at the base.

What caused contamination at Fort Ord?

Contamination at Fort Ord was caused by decades of military operations, including training exercises, munitions disposal, and improper waste management practices. Activities such as firing ranges, fuel storage, and vehicle maintenance led to the release of pollutants into the soil, groundwater, and surrounding ecosystems.

In conclusion, the environmental battles waged at these three military bases serve as sobering reminders of the complex challenges inherent in military operations. As these installations grapple with the aftermath of contamination, concerted efforts are needed to mitigate risks, protect public health, and restore ecosystems. 

By confronting the environmental legacies of the past, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future. This benefits both military bases and surrounding communities.


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