FOUNTAIN, Colo. — 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.
Mr. Fortune felt “stabbed in the back,” he said. “We give our lives and our bodies for our country, and our government does not live up to their end of the deal.”
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.
Though the presence of the chemicals has been known for years, an announcement last week from the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time promised regulatory action, a significant acknowledgment of the startling scope of the problem that drew outrage from veterans and others living in contaminated communities.
Acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the agency would begin the process of potentially limiting the presence of two of the compounds in drinking water, calling this a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”