aerial photo of brown muddy river High Tides Moving
Photo: Ron Whitaker

In the communities surrounding polluted military sites, a hidden threat directly affects you. It's a concern that often remains unnoticed, but it's time to uncover the reality of the health risks you face.

Its importance lies in its mission to reveal these unseen dangers and emphasize their significance. You might be concerned about the air you breathe, the water you drink, or the ground beneath your feet. These worries are valid because polluted military sites have harmed the environment, affecting your health. By exploring these issues, the article will equip you with the knowledge to take steps to protect yourself and your community.

  • Contaminated Groundwater

Contaminated groundwater is a silent threat lurking beneath the surface in communities near polluted military sites. This insidious problem arises from the various chemicals and hazardous materials used or disposed of during military operations. When these substances seep into the ground, they can contaminate the groundwater, a vital drinking water source for many households.

The health risks associated with contaminated groundwater are significant. People unknowingly consume pollutants when they drink or use water from contaminated wells or municipal water supplies that draw from tainted sources. Prolonged exposure to these pollutants can lead to serious health issues, including cancer, neurological disorders, and reproductive problems.

According to the ScienceDirect paper, one of the causes of pollution is the environment's absorption of metals. Gunshot residue (GSR), a byproduct of military operations, releases metals in the surroundings, including antimony, chromium, lead, cadmium, and nickel. Because of this, the research now available suggests that exposed military people may also experience negative cardiovascular, reproductive, and neurological impacts.

The situation is even more challenging because contaminated groundwater can go undetected for years, sometimes even decades. By that point, the harm may have already occurred. Also, cleaning up contaminated groundwater is a complex and expensive process that often falls on the shoulders of already burdened communities.

  • Air Pollution and Respiratory Illnesses

Breathing in contaminated air can have immediate and long-term consequences on health. Short-term exposure can lead to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and throat irritation. In comparison, long-term exposure can contribute to developing or exacerbating conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and even lung cancer.

Even veterans have gone through the consequences of these. according to LWW Journal. Military troops stationed in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia were exposed to high concentrations of tiny particles and other contaminants from several sources. Dust storms, emissions from open-air trash burning in pits, local pollution, and various military duties caused these airborne exposures.

These exposures can potentially have grave negative consequences on respiratory health, individually or together in conjunction.

Exposure to particulate contaminants during deployment was higher than the US's national ambient air quality standards. Epidemiologic research. Case studies indicate that respiratory disorders such as constrictive bronchiolitis and asthma were among the most often identified conditions in post-deployment veterans.

green crop growing from black soil
Photo: Manikandan Annamalai

  • Soil Contamination and Food Safety

When the soil becomes contaminated, it poses a significant risk to food safety. Crops grown in polluted soil can absorb harmful chemicals, heavy metals, and other contaminants. These contaminants can make their way into the fruits and vegetables you eat. Also, the meat from animals that graze on contaminated pastures.

Consuming food tainted with these pollutants can lead to various health problems. These include digestive issues and more severe conditions like organ damage and cancer. It is especially concerning for communities near polluted military sites, as they may unknowingly eat contaminated food daily.
Increased Cancer Risk

The Camp Lejeune lawsuit became a stark reminder of the increased cancer risk faced by communities near polluted military sites. This legal battle highlighted the devastating health consequences of long-term exposure to contaminated water sources on a Marine Corps base.

Many individuals exposed to the polluted water have developed various types of cancer. These included leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and bladder cancer. This alarming revelation underscores the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to address health risks in such communities.

Following these claims has increased the filing of lawsuits, slowing the process. Thus, a recent Camp Lejeune lawsuit update announced the completion of the "Elective Option" procedure. The Department of the Navy and the Justice Department have intended to expedite the resolution of some eligible Camp Lejeune claims covered by CLJA.

According to TorHoerman Law, legal actions like the Camp Lejeune lawsuit have sought justice for those affected by polluted military sites. These lawsuits aim to hold responsible parties accountable for the harm caused to individuals and families.

They also catalyze raising awareness about the health risks linked to polluted military sites. It pushes for better regulations and ensures that affected communities receive the needed support.
Neurological and Developmental Disorders

Neurological disorders like autism, ADHD, and cognitive impairments have been associated with environmental substance exposure. These encompass industrial chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals. These disorders can impact a person's ability to learn, communicate, and function daily.

Developmental disorders can manifest in children exposed to pollutants during critical stages of their growth. Such disorders can affect physical, mental, and emotional development, leading to lifelong challenges.

  • Mental Health and Well-being

Living in areas with known pollution and health risks can increase anxiety, depression, and overall decreased quality of life. Children growing up in these environments may face unique challenges in their emotional and psychological development.

The struggle to advocate for clean and safe living conditions can affect community cohesion and social well-being. It's not uncommon for residents to feel isolated and frustrated. It is because they grapple with the often slow and complex process of addressing pollution and its health consequences.

  • Community Advocacy and Action

According to CBS News, one of the incidents that caught the eye happened at a military warehouse in Honolulu. It had a significant leak of jet fuel in May 2021. Around 93,000 individuals were impacted when some of it entered the base's water supply since it wasn't completely cleaned up.

Colonel Jessica Whaley, Ensign Koda Freeman, and Feindt were the three service personnel who later brought lawsuits against the government.

Among the three, Freeman's family became ill and had a severe issue. Notably, his wife had a seizure illness that abruptly worsened after drinking the polluted water. Such instances demand community advocacy and action, which needs to drive forces behind positive change for those living near polluted military sites.

These communities often find themselves on the front lines of environmental health risks, and their resilience and determination to protect their well-being are inspiring. Residents and concerned individuals come together to raise awareness about the health risks they face.


The health risks communities face near polluted military sites are profound and far-reaching. The impacts on residents are undeniable, from contaminated groundwater to increased cancer risks. These communities face not only physical health challenges but also mental and emotional burdens. Yet, there is hope in the form of community advocacy and action. Together, these communities can demand change, push for cleanup efforts, and safeguard their well-being.