On Thursday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and a bipartisan group of 19 other senators in sending a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees urging them to include several provisions in the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent and address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. The Senate and House passed FY2021 defense bills earlier this year, and leadership from both committees are currently negotiating a final version of the NDAA to be considered by both chambers of Congress.
A 2019 report found that 19 million people in 43 states have been exposed to PFAS-contaminated water. In Washington, PFAS-contaminated water was identified in the Issaquah and Dupont water systems, at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Outlying Field Coupeville, and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the Tacoma-Lakewood area. A report released In June 2020 showed elevated levels of several types of PFAS chemicals in the blood of Spokane County residents near Fairchild Air Force Base.
In their letter, the senators underscored the adverse health effects tied to PFAS chemicals, two of which – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – have emerged as widespread contaminants to the drinking water sources of military bases across the country. They cited the Department of Defense’s PFAS Task Force report, which recently updated the count of military installations impacted by PFAS from 401 to 651. The senators also expressed concern about occupational exposure for firefighters, who are exposed to PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam, as well as potentially through their personal protective equipment (PPE).
“PFAS chemicals… have emerged as a widespread contaminant to the drinking water sources of military bases across the country due to their use in aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) used by the military. The number of military installations with known or suspected contamination from PFAS continues to rise,” the senators wrote. “Additional action is needed to address the immediate concerns of citizens near these military bases who are desperate to know what exposure to these contaminants means for their health and the health of their families.”
The senators requested that House and Senate committee leadership include a number of provisions in the FY21 NDAA to address PFAS contamination at military bases. One of these, an amendment to the Senate bill, would authorize $15 million to continue a PFAS health impact study that Cantwell helped secure in the FY2018 defense bill. Another provision would require PFAS blood testing for service members during their annual periodic health assessment (PHA) if they were stationed at military installations contaminated by PFAS. In their letter, the senators requested that this provision be expanded in the final bill to include testing for military families and veterans who served on contaminated bases. The senators also asked that the defense bill include a measure that would authorize a comprehensive study of firefighters’ PPE to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS, as well as establish a federal grant program to advance development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in PPE.
Senator Cantwell has led efforts in Congress to address water contamination due to PFAS, and she has repeatedly introduced bipartisan legislation to hold federal agencies accountable for addressing PFAS contamination at military bases across the country. In January, Cantwell sent a letter to the Acting Secretary of the Navy expressing concern over PFAS health risks to Kitsap County residents. In February, she called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide an updated timeline for when it will implement the commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat PFAS exposure. In June, Cantwell pressed President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Dr. Nancy Beck, about her role in delaying and weakening a proposed rule to restrict the use of PFAS chemicals in consumer products.
In 2017, Cantwell urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to support programs to investigate and clean up chemicals that have contaminated drinking water sources across the nation and secured $62 million in funding for water remediation and environmental restoration in impacted communities. Cantwell helped secure an amendment in the 2018 NDAA to authorize $10 million to perform a health impact study on the effects of PFAS groundwater contamination, and announced $70 million in the 2018 NDAA legislation for PFAS cleanup in areas near military installations. Cantwell has also called for the inclusion of firefighters in studies on the health effects of occupational exposure to PFAS.
In addition to Senators Cantwell and Shaheen, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
The full text of the letter is available HERE.