Don't Play With Fire & Water
Devastating Wildfires In Hawaii, More Contaminated Military Sites & A New Study Finds Link Between PFOS & Testicular Cancer.
“Ultimately all the pictures that you will see will be easy to understand,” said Hawaiʻi’s Governor Josh Green, “because that level of destruction in a fire hurricane—something new to us in this age of global warming—was the ultimate reason so many people perished.”
A “fire hurricane.” To understand its impact, just look at these photos.
The wildfires that spread on the west coast of the island last week were fanned in part by fierce winds from Hurricane Dora passing hundreds of miles to the south of the island.
Many survivors of the deadly wildfires on Maui have lost everything and are dealing with intermittent power and unreliable cell service. The death toll is at 106 and climbing. An unknown number of people are still unaccounted for as search teams look for remains.
The fire that devastated the historic town of Lahaina is now the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years, according to officials.
In comparison, Camp Fire in Paradise, California, was the state’s deadliest wildfire, killing 85 people and destroying close to 14,000 homes and 500 businesses in 2018. The fire was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018 with overall damages topping $16.5 billion.
To add insult to injury, the collapse of the Lahaina’s water system, described to The New York Times by several people on scene, is yet another disastrous part of the story. Another reminder of the importance of water infrastructure!
The lack of water forced firefighters into an extraordinary rush to save lives by risking their own, and it has left people searching for answers about how the community can better prepare for a world of fiercer winds and drier lands.
Thousands of people are staying in shelters, hotel rooms and Airbnb units, or with friends. About 2,000 homes and businesses still don’t have electricity. The fire also contaminated water supplies in many areas.
Lahaina was once the capital of the entire Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. A large section of the city was designated as a historic district with many cultural sites. Front Street was home to shops, art galleries, and restaurants. All of that history is lost.
The question on everyone’s minds: What started this out-of-control, deadly fire?
Today, The Washington Post reports that power lines likely sparked the first fires on the island. That’s in addition to reports that despite warnings, the company had not cut power in advance of the wind storm to avoid sparking wildfires, nor had it adopted a power shut-off plan, as many utilities in California and other states have done.
Wildfires in Hawaiʻi happen about as often as other states. About 0.5 percent of its total land catches fire every year, according to the state’s wildfire management organization.
But conditions have changed the landscape. Persistent drought along with population growth and development have put strains on resources and made it easier for wildfires to spread.
Unsafe water advisories remain in effect for in Lahaina and Upper Kula areas. Residents should not drink and/or boil water. Drinking water sites are set up in many areas of Lahaina and Kula. For more info, click here.
Donate to The Maui Strong Fund created by the The Hawai‘i Community Foundation.
Donate to MauiFoodBank.org.
Visit Maui County’s comprehensive website with information on how to get relief, volunteer, and make donations: https://www.mauinuistrong.info/support
More Military Sites Added To “The List”
More than 700 military installations are likely contaminated with “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, according to an updated comprehensive review of Defense Department records by the Environmental Working Group.
The DOD identified 58 additional sites with confirmed PFAS detections in drinking water and groundwater for a total of 455 sites where the chemicals have been detected. Concerns about potential contamination persist at an additional 255 bases, bringing the total number of DOD sites where PFAS have been confirmed or suspected to 710.
Just for comparison, back in 2017 the number of active and closed military sites where the use of toxic chemicals had contaminated or were suspected of contaminating water on bases and nearby communities was around 400.
The estimated total cleaning bill, aka what it costs to clean up these sites, has skyrocketed to nearly $39 billion, up by $11 billion from 2016 to 2022, the last year the Pentagon provided estimates.
Yet the DOD budget increased by only $400 million over the same period.
Among the top 20 locations with newly reported PFAS detections, five are in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor, located eight miles west of Honolulu, had two sites with detections exceeding 2 million parts per trillion (ppt).
The current U.S. EPA proposed health-based, non-enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level Goals for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most common types of PFAS, are ZERO. The proposed enforceable MCL for these same contaminants is 4 ppt.
The five sites are: Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam; Fleet and Industrial Supply Center Pearl Harbor; Navy Munitions Command East Asia at Pearl Harbor; Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Hawaii; and Marine Corps Base Hawaii, formerly Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
In December 2022, an internal DOD study concluded more than 175,000 service members at 24 military installations were served unsafe water containing PFOA and PFOS. That study only counted service members at installations served water with PFAS levels greater than 70 ppt, the advisory level set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016.
It’s likely that more than 600,000 service members and their families have been exposed to PFAS through on-base drinking water above levels that the EPA currently considers to be safe.
The blood of nearly all Americans is contaminated with PFAS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies show exposure to very low levels of PFAS can increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness.
The DOD’s internal health assessment recognizes many of these harms, but it ignores the increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer from PFAS exposure, which is well documented by other federal agencies.
In fact, a new federal study suggests a strong link between PFOS found in the blood of thousands of military personnel and testicular cancer. Multiple studies have shown that firefighters, both military and civilian, have been diagnosed with testicular cancer at higher rates than people in most other occupations.
What’s the deal with this exposures with both military and civilian firefighters getting sick?
You may remember we’ve covered this topic before, when we’ve talked with Kevin Ferrara, a retired U.S. Air Force firefighter, who was exposed to PFAS from years of direct and indirect contact with Aqueous Film Forming Foam. Also known as AFFF (many call it A-triple-F), this product was used by military and civilian fire departments to fight flammable liquid fires like aircraft fuel from the 1970s on.
During his service, Kevin was told that this foam was no different from soap, but AFFF contains PFAS chemicals, which studies show are linked to cancer and other health problems.
I find it unbearably upsetting that as wildfires become more intense and more frequent, the very people who are trained to help us are getting sick.
Furious about the DOD dragging their feet? Wildfire conditions getting worse? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.