Bipartisan Effort Assures Inclusion of PFAS Provisions in Defense Bill

July 21, 2020 by Dan McCue
Coast Guard oversees pollution response in Baltimore. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges)

WASHINGTON – Bipartisanship ruled the day Monday when several amendments were added to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021 to better regulate a class of cancer-linked chemicals on military bases and surrounding communities.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS chemicals, are found in a number of industrial and household products, including firefighting foam.

They were, for a time, seen as a kind of miracle chemical because of their versatility. But a number of studies have linked PFAS chemicals to birth defects, infertility, developmental delays and some cancers.

Since then, PFAS pollution has been detected at more than 678 military installations and the surrounding groundwater. Despite the findings, progress in cleaning up legacy pollution and reducing ongoing exposures has been slow.

House Democrats and Republicans worked together all day Monday to pass several amendments to the NDAA, must-pass legislation that is expected to pass the House Tuesday evening.

The lawmakers championing the stricter policies were Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., Andy Levin, D-Mich., Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Harley Rouda, D-Calif., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Andy Kim, D-N.J., Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., Madeline Dean, D-Pa., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Ro Khanna, D- Calif., Haley Stevens, D-Mich., and Peter Welch, D-Vt.

The added amendments:

  • Require the Pentagon to phase out the non-essential use of PFAS in everyday products like cookware, sunscreens, personal care products, floor and furniture wax, carpeting and upholstery, and food packaging;
  • Require the Pentagon to meet state PFAS clean-up standards when those standards exceed federal standards;
  • Place a moratorium on the incineration of PFAS by the Defense Department until safe disposal regulations are finalized by the Pentagon and the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Require the Pentagon to notify farmers when PFAS that originate on a military installation contaminate nearby groundwater;
  • Requires the Pentagon to publish the results of drinking and groundwater testing for PFAS conducted on military installations or former defense sites;
  • Expand blood testing to any active duty service members who want to have their blood tested for PFAS;
  • Provide $150 million for research into the development of PFAS remediation and disposal technologies as well as PFAS-based firefighting foam replacements;
  • Provide nearly $200 million in additional funding for PFAS remediation at active and former military installations, including National Guard facilities;
  • Require federal experts to conduct a study on the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting equipment and the risk posed to firefighters, and expands a study of PFAS contamination in eight communities; and
  • Clarify that manufacturers using PFAS must disclose all discharges of the chemicals of more than 100 pounds.

However, late last week, a broader amendment presented by Reps. Dingell and Posey that would have designated PFAS a hazardous air pollutant in an attempt to clean up the substance was determined to be outside the bill’s rules.

“It’s disappointing that my bipartisan amendment, which cleared the House earlier this year on a strong bipartisan vote, is being ruled out of order to the NDAA because of budgetary points of order,” Dingell said in a statement.

That disappointment aside, advocates for the cleanup applauded the representatives for what they were able to get down.

“Thanks to bipartisan efforts, Congress remains as determined as ever to help combat the ballooning PFAS contamination crisis that is impacting military bases and nearby communities throughout the country,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based non-profit.  “EWG applauds House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith and a large bipartisan group of House members for keeping the pressure on the Pentagon to address the toxic PFAS contamination crisis.”

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