The Grim Legacy of “Forever Chemicals” on North Carolina’s Military Bases


According to the Pentagon, there are currently at least 385 military installations across the country polluted with PFAS, a group of toxic chemicals. These substances have their source in aqueous film-forming foam, AFFF, which military firefighters and trainees use to extinguish jet fuel and petroleum fires. The AFFF formula was invented in 1966 by the U.S. Navy and the infamous company 3M. Because AFFF provides nearly instant fire knockdown that helps in crash rescue firefighting tremendously, it has been widely employed ever since by both military and civilian firefighters.

However, AFFF contains PFAS, exposure to which can lead to the development of numerous debilitating, life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, kidney cancer, lymphoma, prostate cancer, and bladder cancer. Naturally, firefighters have the highest risk of coming to struggle with these health problems, as not only are they regularly exposed to PFAS, but their very own protective gear also contains these chemicals. As a result, cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters. They have a 9% greater risk of cancer diagnosis and a 14% higher risk of passing away due to malignant diseases.

Which North Carolina Military Bases Are Contaminated with PFAS?

PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are nearly impossible to clean from the environment once the use of AFFF releases them. Since AFFF is employed on all military bases where firefighters undergo training, it should be no surprise that so many installations are heavily polluted with these hazardous substances. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been striving for years to remove PFAS from military bases and the surrounding areas and has also declared some of these military installations Superfund sites due to the horrifying extent of contamination present there.

In North Carolina, there are two military bases where PFAS lurk in high concentrations, namely Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Both are still active today. While the safe limit for PFAS exposure is 70 ppt (parts per trillion), the level of these chemicals on the former base is 240 to 3,400 times higher, while the concentration of PFAS on the latter base is 312,000 ppt. Furthermore, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base are also contaminated with jet fuel, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, pesticides, and chlorinated solvents, which worsens toxic exposure to those stationed there. 

Nevertheless, the situation at Camp Lejeune is considerably more serious. At least 14 different military base sites are heavily contaminated with PFAS. The military base is one of the 130 on EPA’s Superfund list. The agency has been trying to remove the pollutants from the installation environment over the past few years. Alarmingly, it could take up to five years until the Department of Defense can fully evaluate the health risks PFAS contamination poses to military members and their families stationed there and decades for the EPA to complete the base’s cleanup.

The highest concentration of PFOS, a subclass of PFAS, found on Camp Lejeune is 35,100 ppt near the Piney Green Road Firefighting Training Pit. Moreover, the EPA also discovered 47 acres where a fire destroyed the amphibious vehicle maintenance facility of the military base, which was put out with AFFF, and 100 acres where the Industrial Area Fly Ash Dump is located, which is also polluted with PFAS. Camp Lejeune hosts a population of approximately 137,526 marines, sailors, retirees, their family members, and civilian employees whose health is endangered by the high concentration of PFAS present in the environment of the military base.

North Carolina Residents Living Near Contaminated Military Bases May Be Exposed to PFAS, Too

The presence of PFAS on the two military bases in North Carolina is a health threat to those living there and the residents who have their homes near the contaminated areas. Seymour Johnson, Air Force Base, is in Goldsboro, whereas Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is situated in Jacksonville. Therefore, individuals and families who have their residence close to these military bases also experience toxic exposure, although to a lower extent. Nonetheless, over the years, PFAS tends to accumulate in the body, eventually triggering a severe and fatal disease even in people who do not live on one of the military bases.

If you have a diagnosis related to PFAS exposure, whether you are a military firefighter, a veteran, or the family member of someone who spent time on a polluted military base, you should contact a law firm specializing in toxic exposure. The attorneys and legal team will be able to help you recover financial compensation from the manufacturers of AFFF for your unjust suffering by filing a claim with the responsible companies.

About the Author

Jonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. The main area of practice of the law firm, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, is toxic exposure. Among the responsibilities of Jonathan Sharp are case evaluation, the collection, and distribution of the funds, management of firm assets, financial analysis, and client relations