Denver – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and 20 Senate colleagues joined a bipartisan letter to Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership urging the inclusion of several provisions in the final fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent and address contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The NDAA is annual defense legislation that authorizes the United States’ national defense programs and priorities for the fiscal year. The Senate and House passed FY2021 defense bills earlier this year and leadership from both committees are currently negotiating a final version of the bill to be considered by both chambers of Congress before going to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
In their letter, Bennet and 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 due to their use in aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) used by the military. They cited the Department of Defense’s PFAS Task Force report updating the count of military installations impacted by these materials from 401 to 651. The senators also expressed concern about occupational exposure for firefighters in particular, who are more exposed to these chemicals through the use of firefighting foam, and also potentially through their personal protective equipment (PPE). They argued that the serious health implications tied to these chemicals coupled with unknown long-term health effects demands action from Congress and the attention of the Department of Defense.
“We acknowledge the ongoing efforts of the Department of Defense (DOD); however, 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,” wrote Bennet and his colleagues in the letter.
The senators continued with a request for House and Senate committee leadership to include a number of provisions in the FY21 NDAA to confront PFAS contamination at military installations in our communities. These provisions include authorizing $15 million to continue the PFAS health impact study as well as provision that would require PFAS blood testing for service members during their annual periodic health assessment (PHA) if it is determined they were stationed at one of the more than 600 military installations contaminated by PFAS. The senators requested that this provision not only be retained in the final bill, but that it be expanded to include testing for military families and veterans who served on contaminated bases. Bennet and the senators also requested that the defense bill include a measure that would authorize a comprehensive study of firefighters’ PPE to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS and also establish a federal grant program to advance development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in PPE.
Bennet and his colleagues closed their letter by urging the conference committee to include a measure that modifies the authority for environmental restoration projects of the National Guard and provides technical corrections to ensure restoration of contamination by PFOS and PFOA, as well as a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to evaluate available firefighting technologies or substances to be adapted for use by DOD to facilitate the phase-out of firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals.
In addition to Bennet, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
The text of the letter is available HERE.
Bennet has long worked to address the health effects, cleanup, and reimbursement issues associated with PFAS including at Peterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Colorado Springs. In February, Bennet joined a group of senators in a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting he provide an updated timeline for when the EPA will implement commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat exposure to PFAS.
- Bennet pushed for a nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS and for additional funding for remediation and clean up.
- Bennet secured $10 million for the nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in the 2018 omnibus package.
- Bennet secured an additional $44 million in funding for Air Force environmental restoration and remediation in the 2018 omnibus package. A significant amount of that funding was used for remediation around Peterson AFB in Colorado.
- Bennet supported a provision in the FY2018 NDAA that required a plan on how the Department of Defense might reimburse state or municipal agencies that expended funds to provide alternative water supplies.
- Bennet wrote to the CDC to ask that the nationwide study include communities in Colorado near Peterson AFB.
- Bennet visited communities around Peterson AFB to receive an update on remediation efforts. There, Bennet also received an update on the challenges water districts are having receiving reimbursement for steps they took to clean up drinking water.
- Bennet demanded the Trump Administration (CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)) release the results of a study regarding what levels of certain chemicals are safe in drinking water. According to news reports at the time, the EPA had been working to block the release of results from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study on the toxicity of certain PFAS.
- Bennet passed an amendment to provide funding for the Department of Defense to reimburse state and municipal water authorities for actions they took to clean up and mitigate PFAS in drinking water. The amendment was included in the Department of Defense-Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill, which passed the Senate in 2018. The provision was not included in the final version of the bill that was signed into law.
- Bennet wrote to the CDC/ATSDR to voice disappointment that the CDC will not include military and civilian firefighters in its investigations of the human health effects of PFAS contamination pursuant to Section 316 of the FY19 NDAA.
- Bennet and his colleagues introduced the PFAS Action Plan of 2019, legislation that would mandate the EPA, within one year of enactment, declare PFAS as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.
- Bennet introduced an amendment to the NDAA to authorize the U.S. Air Force to reimburse local water districts, like those around Peterson AFB, for actions they took to treat and mitigate PFAS contamination.
- Following Bennet’s 2018 letter calling on the CDC to include Colorado communities near Peterson AFB in the nationwide study on the health effects of PFAS, Bennet praised the agency’s decision to include these communities.