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SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: February 22, 2019

SNIP: When Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Fortune returned from Iraq, his body battered by war, he assumed he’d be safe.

Then the people around him began to get sick. His neighbors, all living near five military bases, complained of tumors, thyroid problems and debilitating fatigue. Soon, the Colorado health department announced an unusually high number of kidney cancers in the region. Then Mr. Fortune’s wife fell ill.

The military, it turned out, had been leaching toxic chemicals into the water for decades.

That was 2016. Since then, the Defense Department has admitted that it allowed a firefighting foam to slip into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe, sometimes for generations. This exposed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly many more, to per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of man-made chemicals known as PFAS that have been linked to cancers, immune suppression and other serious health problems.

All told, 10 million people could be drinking water laced with high levels of PFAS, according to Patrick Breysse, a top official at the federal Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Breysse has called the presence of the chemicals “one of the most seminal public health challenges” of the coming decades.

PFAS are a broad class of chemicals developed in the 1940s. Because they repel grease and water, they have been used across industries for decades, often to prevent stains. They are placed in a dizzying array of products: food packaging, nonstick pans, clothing, furniture. They are also used to extinguish fires where petroleum-based explosions pose a danger.

But the chemicals move quickly through the earth and into water, where they persist indefinitely. Some scientists have deemed them “forever chemicals,” and over the last two decades, a growing body of research has shown that the compounds meant to help us are likely hurting us.

The most comprehensive data, based on a study of 69,000 people living near in a West Virginia DuPont plant, say exposure is associated with kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis, among other problems, while animal studies show delays in development.