“There were some incidents where we sprayed foam out for fire prevention visits, and young kids played in it because they thought it was cool, it looked like snow,” he says. Now retired, Ferrara says he unquestioningly believed leadership—during his training and deployments—when they compared that firefighting foam to “soap and water.”
In June 2021, the Biden administration’s Defense Department called New Mexico’s attempts to compel cleanup under state permits “arbitrary and capricious.”
Sante Fe Reporter (New Mexico), published 3 August 2021
In the early to mid-1990s, Air Force firefighter Kevin Ferrara was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. It was his first deployment after training at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois.
The life of an Air Force firefighter is similar to a municipal firefighter, he says. They ignite jet fuel in training pits and extinguish the fires. Sometimes, an airplane crashes. And every day, firefighters check their equipment, testing trucks and spraying foam, making sure no gremlins gum things up in an emergency.
Today, we know the foam contained toxic chemicals responsible for polluting the water around hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases in New Mexico.
And the toxic chemicals are present in the drinking water of millions of Americans.
“We never imagined that foam was toxic,” Ferrara says today from his home in Pennsylvania, where he is an outspoken critic of the military’s response to the pollution. “We were just assuming those who told us these things knew what they were talking about.”
Over the years, Ferrara has learned that the military knew Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was dangerous—and so did the companies that manufactured it.
…PFAS have been nicknamed “forever” chemicals because they don’t go away. We started making them in the 1930s. And they’re here to stay.
The toxic substances don’t break down easily. Their carbon-fluorine bonds, which make them so effective for household and industrial products, also mean that in the environment, water won’t break them down. Nor will light or even microbes. Bury them and they’ll find their way into soil and water. Burn them and they’ll reenter the hydrological cycle via rain and snow.
PFAS love to move. They move in water and in our bodies. They cross the placental barrier and mothers pass them to their children when breastfeeding. PFAS also bioaccumulate, moving up the food chain. They can migrate into human bodies through milk from cows that drank contaminated water, for example, or fish or a duck harvested from waters containing PFAS.
…Chemicals within the PFAS family are found not only in firefighting foams—which contaminated Cannon and Holloman—but also in common household items. Pollution in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey, California and North Carolina has been tied to the manufacture of these chemicals by companies like Tyco Fire Products, a subsidiary of Johnson Controls; 3M, DuPont, DECRA Roofing Systems and Chemours.
These chemicals are also sometimes called “emerging” toxins. That’s because regulations are still emerging—not because we don’t know they cause health problems.
Studies dating back to the late 1960s show links between PFAS contamination and liver and kidney disease as well as health problems related to reproduction, development and immune systems. Exposure to PFAS has also been tied to high cholesterol, low infant birth weights, thyroid hormone disruption and cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and kidney, testicular, prostate and ovarian cancers.