House and Senate lawmakers are concerned about increasing PFAS contamination near the nation’s military installations and have pushed forward with new provisions in their versions of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to reduce the chemicals’ impact on communities, Military Times reported last week.
The chemicals, known as perfluoroalky and polyfluoroalkyl toxins and commonly referred to as PFAS, have been linked to cancer and have been used in military firefighting foam for more than 50 years that has now contaminated the water systems at many of the nation’s military bases and their communities.
The national problem has caused lawmakers to take action through defense legislation that seeks to halt the impacts PFAS contamination.
The Democrat-led House version of the NDAA, which passed July 12, introduces several new regulatory provisions addressing PFAS contamination on military bases, most significantly requiring listing the chemicals as hazardous and directing DOD to fully fund cleanup of contaminated areas as Superfund sites.
The funding requirement was driven by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) who claimed DOD has resisted cleaning toxic areas because the chemicals were not designated as hazardous.
“We’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road,” Dingell said in a statement after passage of the House NDAA. “We know this is a hazardous material. We know it has harmful effects. We need to start cleaning it up. What’s in the bill is only a beginning.”
The House NDAA would also phase out PFAS-based firefighting foam by 2025, as On Base previously reported, and require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on DOD’s clean-up of contaminated sites.
Another major provision in the House NDAA, driven by Mike Turner (R-Ohio), instructs DOD to share monitoring data of PFAS detection on military bases with local communities and municipal drinking water authorities.
“Our base, like many others around the nation, continues to deal with the detection of PFAS in our groundwater,” said Turner (R-Ohio), whose district includes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in a July 11 statement. “The most basic need of any community is access to safe, clean water.”
The GOP-led Senate significantly differs with the House in its fiscal 2020 NDAA, most notably by resisting to label PFAS chemicals as hazardous under the Superfund law. Under the law, contaminators are required to fund cleanup of toxic sites, according to Military Times.
Other Senate provisions include directing DOD not to use funds for the purchase of PFAS-based firefighting foam, and that the foam must be phased out by October 2023 with outstanding stocks must also be disposed of by the same deadline.
The Senate NDAA would also direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve public access to information about PFAS emissions by adding PFAS to the agency’s Toxic Release Inventory database. It would also direct EPA to produce instructions on how to clean up PFAS, and to implement a national drinking water standard for the presence of PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Both legislative bodies have now approved their defense authorization bills and conference committee negotiations are expected to resolve differences over the coming weeks. A final version of the legislation is hoped to reach the White House by Oct. 1.
MLive photo by Jake May