WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is lobbying the White House to back woefully weak cleanup standards for PFAS chemicals, which contaminate water on or near hundreds of military bases, according to The New York Times. The levels pushed by the Pentagon, up to 30 times the recommendation of some federal scientists, could mean some sites are not cleaned up at all.
According to the Times, the Pentagon is pushing for a PFAS groundwater standard of 380 parts per trillion, or ppt. That is up to 30 times higher than the level that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, considers safe in drinking water, and more than five times the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level.
In a report the Pentagon sought to suppress, last year the ATSDR proposed safe levels that roughly translate to 7 ppt for PFOS and 11 ppt for PFOA, the two most notorious PFAS chemicals that contaminate drinking water for an estimated 110 million Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory for drinking water is 70 ppt.
“Instead of recognizing that we have an out-of-control PFAS crisis and its role in causing it, the Pentagon’s proposal will make it even worse,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Setting a PFAS standard so high that the Pentagon could avoid cleaning up many of its contaminated sites is like raising the speed limit to 500 miles per hour.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he has learned that NASA and the Small Business Administration have joined the Department of Defense in lobbying for a weak cleanup standard. In a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Carper said that “DOD and NASA continue to refuse to agree to take any measures to remediate contamination caused by their activities unless the measured levels of PFOA and PFOS [at contaminated bases] exceed 400 ppt.”
PFAS contamination on military installations is widespread because for nearly 50 years, the Pentagon has used firefighting foam that contains these chemicals. Studies link PFAS exposure to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, among an array of serious health problems.
If the Trump administration adopts either the EPA’s 70 ppt or something closer to the recommendation by ATSDR, the costs to the Defense Department to clean up its contaminated sites could run into the billions of dollars.
Last year, the Pentagon told a House oversight committee that there were 401 military installations where there are known or suspected releases of the two most notorious PFAS chemicals into groundwater. Last week, EWG released a report showing that at more than 100 bases, PFAS levels in drinking water exceed the level EPA considers safe.
EWG laid out a comprehensive plan for the Trump administration that would tackle this growing PFAS contamination crisis, including mandating that the Pentagon quickly clean up all of its contaminated facilities.
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.