Cleaning up water contamination on military bases will cost more than $2 billion, officials say

news
Gross. (U.S. Army/Spc. Scott Lindblom)

WASHINGTON — The price tag to clean up contaminated water sources at all military installations is likely to climb higher than the $2 billion original cost estimate, the Pentagon said Thursday.


Defense Secretary Mark Esper in July directed the Pentagon to establish a task force to not only look at the contamination, but begin to assess the health impacts that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known commonly as PFAS, may have had on service members, their families and the communities surrounding their bases.

The Pentagon estimated in 2018 that the cleanup would likely cost around $2 billion. But in the months since, it has found additional locations where there is PFAS contamination.

"Do I think it's going to be bigger than that? The answer is yes," said Bob McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment who chairs the new task force.

"We're really not going to know (the full extent and costs) until we have much more analysis, much more investigation into the sites, to see the scope of the problem," said Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and a task force member.

McMahon and Sullivan met with reporters to discuss the Pentagon review. The task force has six months to come up with recommendations for Esper, who ordered the Pentagon to come up with a solution for the contaminated bases as one of his first official duties in office.

Hundreds of military bases across the United States have either drinking water sources or groundwater that has above-acceptable levels of the chemicals in them, the Pentagon and independent watchdog the Environmental Working Group has found.

McMahon said the group has identified several areas it needs to address. Those include cleanup cost and also future healthcare such as making it easier for veterans or service members to be able to get their illnesses recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as connected to their service in the military.

The chemicals are linked to cancers and birth defects and are found in everyday household supplies, but are concentrated in the military's firefighting foam that has been in use since the 1970s. Over the decades, that foam has seeped into ground water and drinking wells at hundreds of military locations worldwide.

The task force is also looking closely at the firefighting foam, known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, that has now largely been banned from being used in training at land-based military facilities but is still used to fight actual aviation fire emergencies. It was not clear if the foam has similarly been banned in training aboard all Navy ships as recent exercises publicized by the Defense Department seemed to indicate it was still in use.

McMahon acknowledged the impact the foam has had on communities, and why the Pentagon is making efforts now to phase out the foam.

"We don't use *AFFF) in training anymore," McMahon said. "When it's used is when we are in an actual emergency, and when it is, we treat that site as a spill and treat it as spill contamination much like we do a variety of other chemicals."

Reducing AFFF use "doesn't undo what we've done," McMahon said. "What it does is ensure we don't contribute any more to the contamination that has taken place."

———

©2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

Read More Show Less

Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

Walruses rest on an ice floe off Wrangel Island, part of the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve in the Arctic Ocean (Itas-TASS/Yuri Smityuk via Getty Images)

In a kind of odd man-versus-nature moment, a Russian navy boat was attacked and sunk by a walrus during an expedition in the Arctic, the Barents Observer reported Monday.

Read More Show Less

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

Read More Show Less

A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

Read More Show Less