The Defense Department will establish a new task force to address drinking water contamination from the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS at military facilities and in nearby communities, according to a news release by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
The announcement of the task force comes days after Defense Secretary Mark Esper pledged to Shaheen during his July 16 confirmation hearing to “approach the (PFAS) problem in an aggressive and holistic way.”
EWG has identified and mapped 206 military sites in the U.S. where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with PFAS at levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s non-binding health guideline.
“EWG applauds Sen. Shaheen for getting Sec. Esper to commit to a comprehensive and aggressive plan to clean up PFAS at military bases,” said EWG Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “And we thank Sec. Esper for his swift decision to create this much-needed task force.”
According to reporting by Politico’s Annie Snider, who obtained a copy of a memo by Sec. Esper, the PFAS task force will be chaired by Assistant Sec. of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon and comprised of his assistant-secretary-level counterparts from each of the military branches.
“The military is one of the primary sources of PFAS contamination in drinking water, so it is now up to the secretary to keep his commitment and end the Pentagon’s years-long foot dragging and its repeated efforts to weaken federal cleanup standards,” said Faber. “It’s time the Defense Department becomes part of the solution instead of the problem that has caused widespread PFAS contamination in communities across the country.”
PFAS contamination on military installations is widespread because for nearly 50 years, the Defense Department has used firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals.
In June, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, containing a number of critical PFAS monitoring and cleanup amendments. Included was an amendment requiring the Pentagon to phase out by 2023 the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam and require military facilities to meet state cleanup standards.
In July, the House passed its version of the NDAA with several PFAS amendments, including one that would to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA, the Superfund law.
Negotiators from the House and Senate will soon agree to a final version of the defense spending bill. EWG is pressing lawmakers to include all of the amendments in the bill Congress sends to President Trump for his consideration.
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.