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You are here News Environment Source of the Tainted Water Crisis In Upstate NY: The US Military

Source of the Tainted Water Crisis In Upstate NY: The US Military

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Lake Washington reservoir contaminated by US Military

The contamination started back in 1990 when the nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base, home to the 105th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, spilled 4,000 gallons of fire-fighting foam into a stream that flows directly into Lake Washington.

That foam contained perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, an invisible, flavorless industrial chemical that clings to water molecules. PFOS has been linked to cancer, thyroid problems and chronic kidney disease, and can accelerate puberty, delay mammary gland development, lower sperm count and raise cholesterol.

The Pentagon has continued to use the foam, discharging it into pools near the airbase. Even now, the Department of Defense has only put some restrictions on its use as it researches an alternative. Even if they had stopped, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies the chemical as “extremely persistent,” meaning it takes many years to naturally degrade.

Despite this, PFOS is not federally regulated. In January 2009, the EPA issued an advisory in response to a contamination in Alabama, stating that the chemical only posed a health risk in concentrations of at least 200 parts per trillion. For its sister compound, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, the EPA warned against concentrations any higher than 400 parts per trillion.

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