WASHINGTON – Last week, the Navy asked a federal court to delay a lawsuit seeking to require the military to pay for medical monitoring of people who live near naval installations to determine whether they have developed health problems from exposure to fluorinated chemicals, commonly called PFAS.
In its motion before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Navy cited the possibility that either the Environmental Protection Agency and/or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could soon list two PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, as a “hazardous substance” under federal or state law. The Navy argued that the court should stay the current litigation, arguing that litigating the ongoing issues in the case would be both “needless” and “duplicative” before the government makes the designation.
In February, the EPA released a PFAS “action plan” that has been roundly panned by public health and environmental advocates for lacking specifics and deadlines. Although EPA indicated in the plan that it has “initiated the regulatory process” for designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law, the plan gives no indication of when EPA expects to complete that process.
At the center of the litigation are the plaintiffs, the Giovanni and Palmer families from Bucks County, Pa., who live near naval facilities where firefighting foam containing PFOA and PFOS was heavily used for decades and contaminated the drinking water of adjacent communities.
Firefighting foams made with PFAS, which were long used on military installations, are a major source of PFAS contamination. The Pentagon has fought efforts to clean up legacy contamination that has polluted nearby communities and has cited EPA’s failure to designate PFAS as “hazardous substances” under the federal Superfund law as one reason for its refusal to clean up PFAS contamination.
The two families are seeking compensation through a trust funded by the Navy to help pay the costs of medical monitoring designed to diagnose and treat health problems people could suffer as a result of being exposed to PFAS.
“This is a cynical attempt by the Navy to stall this litigation and continue the Pentagon’s long history of avoiding responsibility for knowingly putting military personnel and civilians at serious risk from these toxic chemicals,” said EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. “This is exactly why Congress must pass the military spending bill with robust PFAS cleanup provisions, so the federal government can finally do what is right – address this contamination crisis the military played a central role in creating in the first place.”
Congressional leaders are currently negotiating the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020. The NDAA is a must-pass defense bill that includes a number of important PFAS-related provisions passed by the House and Senate.
Two provisions being considered would designate PFAS as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law and as toxic pollutants under the Clean Water Act. The inclusion of these provisions in the spending bill would kick-start the cleanup process of legacy PFAS contamination sites, including on military facilities, and limit industrial discharges of PFAS waste into drinking water supplies.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, 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.