The US military has a multibillion-dollar water contamination problem.
The military’s use of PFAS firefighting foam could turn out to have dire consequences for the people who handled it and people living nearby. Run-off from PFAS foams — short for Per- or PolyFluoroAlkyl substances—has seeped into the groundwater and into drinking water. Now, communities across the country are wondering what PFAS-contamination means for their health and who’s responsible to clean it all up.
WATCH the 21-minute CBS video report at this link: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2019/07/12/the-us-military-pfas-water-contamination-problem.html
(July 14, 2019) — The US military’s use of firefighting foam that contains potentially dangerous chemical compounds could have serious health consequences for the workers who handle it and those who live nearby.
The Department of Defense had identified 401 military sites that could be contaminated with the toxic compounds, known as PFAS, as of August 2017. The Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University have mapped at least 712 documented cases of PFAS contamination across 49 states, as of July 2019. That map includes contamination on military bases along with industrial plants, commercial airports and firefighting training sites.
PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are found at high levels in a concentrate for a firefighting foam called AFFF, or aqueous film forming foam, which has seeped into groundwater and at times tainted drinking water. The Environmental Working Group estimates more than 100 million Americans could be drinking tap water contaminated with PFAS.
Dubbed “the forever chemical,” PFAS don’t naturally break down in the environment, which explains why some water sources are still contaminated from AFFF use decades ago.
Almost Every State in the US Now Contaminated by Pentagon Chemical Spills
Kyle Walsh / CNBC
As of July 2019, EWG and Northeastern University have mapped out 712 PFAS contamination sites across 49 states in the US.
The Centers for Disease Control recognizes an array of health effects linked to PFAS exposure, such as lowering a woman’s chance of getting pregnant, issues with childhood development and even cancer.
Now, communities and service members across the country are wondering what PFAS-contaminated water means for their health and their homes, and who’s responsible to clean it all up. The investigations are a tangled mess of politics and national security. The chemicals in the foam are the subject of corporate lawsuits and scientific discovery. And scientists are concerned about their ongoing threat to human health.
And while there’s a patchwork of regulations across state lines, there’s no legally-enforceable federal drinking water standard when it comes to PFAS.
As of July 2019, the Department of Defense has spent more than $550 million on PFAS investigations and responses including providing bottled water and in-home water filtration systems, according to Heather Babb, DOD Spokeswoman. But DOD has not come up with a plan to actually clean up the PFAS contamination across the country, something the Pentagon roughly estimated could cost $2 billion.
CNBC went to some of the communities near military bases to see how PFAS contamination is playing out today. Watch the video above to hear from impacted citizens, veterans and military officials.
Toxic Firefighting Foam Causing Cancer in People Living Near Military Bases
The Intercept (February 12, 2018)
Taking PFAS Demands to Senator Barrasso on Tuesday
Pat Elder and David Swanson / World BEYOND War
(July 17, 2019) — A group of peace and environmental activists will be presenting a petition with 6,600 signatures to Sen. John Barrasso, (R-WY), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, demanding the passage of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would force the military to clean up its PFAS contamination in communities across the country.
The activists, organized by World BEYOND War, met at 3:00 pm this Tuesday, July 16th at the Dirksen South Convenience Dining Area before heading to Sen. Barrasso’s office (307 Dirksen) to present their demands.
The U.S. military is poisoning people and the environment in and around military bases worldwide when it uses fire-fighting foams during routine fire-training exercises. Per and Poly Flouroalkyl Substances or PFAS are among the deadliest chemicals ever developed. They are used in fire-fighting foams to extinguish massive petroleum fires during routine military training exercises on hundreds of bases around the world.
The carcinogenic foam is allowed to leach into groundwater to poison water and sewer systems in adjacent communities. Drinking PFAS-contaminated water contributes to several types of cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, miscarriages, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.
Since we proffered our petition in support of S 1372 — The PFAS Accountability Act of 2019, a more comprehensive piece of legislation has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by the House. Last week the House approved the Dingell-Kildee Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the Superfund law. This is what needs to happen.
Designating these carcinogens as hazardous substances would require the military to clean up the contamination it has caused across the country. Inclusion of the Dingell-Kildee Amendment to the NDAA would not, however, address the contamination in hundreds of U.S. bases overseas.
The measure must pass the Senate to become law and that means it must go through John Barrasso, the Chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. Barrasso, the Senate’s top recipient of chemical industry cash, is the Pentagon’s point man on contamination. He has denounced the Dingell-Kildee measure. The military and its chemical industry benefactors would be hit with tens of billions of dollars of costs to clean up the widespread contamination — and that’s just in the United States.
ACTION: Here’s the original petition.
CNBC: “The US military’s multibillion-dollar PFAS water contamination”
Truthout: “House Approves ‘Sweeping’ Provisions That Target Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’“
World BEYOND War: “Profit, Power, and Poison — Barrasso in the Senate“
World BEYOND War is a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. We aim to create awareness of popular support for ending war and to further develop that support. We work to advance the idea of not just preventing any particular war but abolishing the entire institution. We strive to replace a culture of war with one of peace in which nonviolent means of conflict resolution take the place of bloodshed.
House Approves PFAS Superfund Amendment Over GOP, Industry Objection
(July 12, 2019) — The House by voice vote July 12 approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would require EPA to declare within one year that perfluorinated chemicals are hazardous substances under the Superfund law, despite objections from GOP lawmakers and a number of industry groups, who fear significant new cleanup liability.
Lawmakers July 11 also approved by voice vote several other amendments dealing with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including one that would require EPA to add PFAS to the list of toxic pollutants under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and develop technology-based effluent limits, which critics say would also create Superfund liability.
The votes set up a conflict with the Senate, which pointedly excluded provisions dealing with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) when it recently approved its version of the defense authorization bill, due in part to objections from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Instead, the Senate bill included provisions to address PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).
EPA has formally committed to designating perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) — the two most common PFAS chemicals — as hazardous substances subject to Superfund liability, indicating in its recent unified agenda that it plans to propose a rule in October.
But those pushing the issue in Congress want the designation to include all PFAS and are seeking to have EPA act within one year — a faster schedule than the agency is likely to adopt.
The CERCLA amendment, sponsored by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-M) and Dan Kildee (D-MI), and the CWA amendment, sponsored by Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH), drew criticism from Barrasso and industry groups, who fear they will impose costly new liabilities.
For example, water utilities have warned that designating PFAS as hazardous substances could result in new liabilities stemming from land disposal of biosolids containing the chemicals.
And drinking water and wastewater utilities have also raised concerns that landfill disposal of materials from their treatment systems, such as “filtration media or resin that includes PFAS,” could also result in new cleanup requirements.
They also warned that even if the lawmakers do not require a CERCLA listing, adding PFAS to the list of toxic pollutants under the CWA as Pappas’ amendment requires would automatically define PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA because it would be incorporated by reference.
“The cost of cleanup liability incurred by water and wastewater systems would be passed on to millions of local customers across the country,” the utilities wrote in a July 10 letter to lawmakers. They said the amendments “have not been examined by the appropriate committees of jurisdiction and actually carry significant unintended consequences for the nation’s water and wastewater systems.”
Billions In Liability
Barrasso echoed their concerns in his July 10 statement. “Rather than seek similar compromise, House Democrats are proposing to saddle local airports, farmers and ranchers, water utilities, and countless small businesses with billions of dollars in liability,” Barrasso said. “This is what happens when the House rushes legislation and ignores the committee process. Their proposal won’t become law. Our PFAS legislation can. It advanced unanimously from the Environment and Public Works Committee and passed as part of the defense authorization bill with overwhelming bipartisan support.”
And airports, where PFAS-containing firefighting foam is used, also object to the Superfund designation, as well as the TRI reporting requirement, according to a May letter from Airports Council International-North America to Barrasso and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE).
The airports say the federal government has mandated the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam at airports, and therefore, “the federal government must be responsible for any impacts flowing from that mandate.”
“Therefore, we urge you to ensure that any bill that would require airports to take any action or bear any burden as a result of the use of PFAS that was required by the Federal government, includes provisions for federal financial and legal responsibility for those actions,” the letter says. “Airports should not be forced to pay for consequences of actions the federal government required them to take. As an example, when appropriate remediation and disposal actions are identified for airports relating to their federally-mandated firefighting obligations, it is imperative that Congress ensures the federal government pay for them.”
Carper authored an amendment to the Senate defense bill that included a carve-out for civilian airport entities that would prevent so-called airport sponsors from being liable under Superfund law for the costs of responding to, or damages from, PFAS releases to the environment that resulted from the use of aqueous film-forming foam.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) limited debate on the defense bill, and Carper’s amendment was never considered on the floor.
Comment: The preceding article was obtained through an “Inside EPA” paid subscription. They frame the looming PFAS showdown pretty well and they point out Barrasso as the hold up. Including all PFAS as hazardous chemicals is the ultimate goal.
Barrasso kept the Superfund provision out of the Senate’s NDAA markup. He just wants to list it, talk about it, study it, and kick it down the road.
They’re a little misleading here because they say PFOA and PFOS are two of the most common PFAS chemicals when, in fact, there are over 5,000 of these carcinogens out there and PFOS and PFOA are no longer used. They’ve been replaced by other deadly substitutes.
There are tens of billions of dollars of looming, lucrative DOD and fed gov’t cleanup contracts to be had. This is the most severe problem of contamination ever faced in world history. It is no coincidence that NBC came out with its report a day or two after the House included the Superfund provision in the NDAA. That’s why I was told the release of the thing was “political.”
There are no firm estimates of how much the Pentagon would have to spend if it earnestly abided by the Superfund (CERCLA) law, but AP says tens of billions and that doesn’t count U.S. overseas obligations or health care costs.
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