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Firefighting Drills May Contaminate Drinking Water: Study

The discovery of cancer-causing chemicals in drinking water supplies found near military bases, airports and other similar installations across the country has been traced to routine firefighting drills, researchers say. Highly fluorinated chemicals, specifically poly- and perfluoroalkyl, have been found in certain water supplies, raising serious health concerns. Researchers, in fact, say an estimated 6 million people may have been exposed to water contaminated by these chemicals, giving rise to strong requests for training measures to be altered.

The chemicals, researchers say, are used to extinguish liquid fuel fires. While they can be important for use when fire is an imminent threat, using them for drills unnecessarily creates a contamination risk. These chemicals are washed into surface and ground waters during training drills, ultimately ending up in drinking water.

Fluorinated chemicals are such a concern to researchers because of the serious illnesses they’ve been connected to. In people, for example, they have been strongly linked to testicular and kidney cancer. They are also associated with high cholesterol, endocrine disruptions and obesity.

While the full implications of the reported contaminations remain unclear at this point, researchers urge changes in routine firefighting drills to prevent further unnecessary exposure. Whether changes in drills will be implemented on military bases, industrial sites and other locations remains to be seen.

It is estimated that nearly 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with a form of cancer (other than skin cancer) in the coming year. There are many factors that may increase a person’s risk for developing different forms of this disease. Contaminated drinking water is just one of the many risks known. People who are concerned about their personal cancer risks are urged to talk with their healthcare providers. Local water departments are legally bound to provide information about the safety and quality of the potable water they provide to the public, as well.


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