According to a recent study by the National Cancer Institute and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, there is a direct connection between so-called forever chemicals and testicular cancer when it comes to military personnel. 

The link was found while studying the blood of thousands of Air Force servicemen. Those who also worked as firefighters had elevated levels of forever chemicals in their blood due to the use of firefighting foams.

Aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, is used to fight fires and can contain carcinogenic chemicals like PFAS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down. They are a group of human-made chemicals that can accumulate in the environment and in the human body, leading to serious health problems.

Retired Air Force firefighter Kevin Ferrara has been dealing with a number of health concerns he blames on forever chemicals. Ferrara worked at Air Combat Command headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia in the early 2010s. 

He remembers seeing emails mentioning two types of PFAS as evidence grew about the chemicals used in aqueous film forming foam being toxic. 

“We were still led to believe that it’s perfectly safe,” Ferrara told KFF Health News. “They kept putting out vague and cryptic messages, citing environmental concerns.”

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New Evidence in PFAS Link to Cancer

Researchers analyzed the blood data of Air Force servicemen from the Department of Defense Serum Repository. They examined 530 cases and an equal number of control cases, along with a second sample collected four years later. Airmen with testicular cancer were found to have higher levels of forever chemicals in their bloodstreams than those who hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer.

“To my knowledge this is the first study to measure PFAS levels in the U.S. military population and to investigate associations with a cancer endpoint in this population, so that brings new evidence to the table,” study co-author Mark Purdue told USA Today. 

Studies in the past have shown that both civilian and military firefighters are diagnosed with testicular cancer at a higher rate than others. This new study is the first time a direct association has been made between PFAS and testicular cancer among military members.

The study was recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not currently recommend blood testing for PFAS. Researchers say more investigation is needed to measure PFAS levels in the blood of people in other occupations and other branches of the military. 

What You Should Know About PFAS

PFAS can be found in a variety of products, including: 

  • Cleaning products
  • Cosmetics
  • Fast-food packaging
  • Firefighting foams
  • Nonstick cookware
  • Paints and sealants 
  • Stain-resistant fabrics

There are a number of potential health effects linked to PFAS, including cancer, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, hormone suppression, thyroid disease, liver damage and ulcerative colitis.

In total there are more than 12,000 types of PFAS, and those chemicals can accumulate inside of your body over a long period of time. Most people already have forever chemicals in their blood because of exposure from food, soil and water. A study published in August 2023 by the U.S. Geological Survey found that half of all tap water across the country contains forever chemicals. 

PFAS contamination has also been at the center of thousands of lawsuits that have resulted in billions of dollars in settlements. Earlier this year, 3M agreed to pay up to $12.5 billion to cities and towns across the U.S. after claims that its manufacturing process tainted drinking water with chemicals. 

Chemours, DuPont and Corteva also recently agreed to pay more than a billion dollars to settle claims they contaminated drinking water. The settlements will be used to help with the removal of PFAS from public water supplies.