NDAA can protect service members by requiring safer cleaning products at DOD

Congress can improve health protection for military service members, their families and civilian workers at Department of Defense facilities by passing the fiscal year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, with a provision that directs DOD to use cleaning products free from the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

The House version of the NDAA adopts a bipartisan effort, led by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), to require the switch to safer products. The provision would require the DOD to use cleaning products certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program or similar certification programs. 

Safer Choice lists products that are safer for human health and the environment – none contain PFAS or other unnecessary hazardous ingredients such as nonylphenol ethoxylate or chemicals that could cause cancer or reproductive and developmental effects.

If the provision is included in the final version of the NDAA, safety and indoor air quality would improve for service members, their families and civilian employees who work or live in the over 2.3 billion square feet of buildings the department maintains worldwide.

Given the DOD’s billion-dollar purchasing power, it would also give a financial boost to American companies that market and produce safer cleaning products.

The provision would kick-start a shift toward the federal government buying safer products free from harmful PFAS, prompted by a 2021 directive from President Joe Biden.

In response to the directive, the administration in April announced federal contractors must use safer cleaning products in government buildings managed by the General Services Administration, or GSA. That has a big impact, since the GSA manages the largest share of civilian federal buildings. But DOD-managed facilities aren’t covered by the new policy.

Cleaning product risks

PFAS and other chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are found in a range of cleaning products. Many unnecessarily threaten human health and the environment.

Many cleaning products, such as floor sealers and finishes – which cure into a film once applied – contain PFAS. Such products, used for floor stripping and waxing, caused elevated levels of PFAS in indoor air, a 2022 study found.

Everyday products may release hundreds of VOCs, which are associated with neurotoxicity and harm to the respiratory and reproductive systems, according to a 2023 peer-reviewed analysis of 30 cleaning products, including multipurpose and glass cleaners, air fresheners and more. The chemicals in cleaning products contaminate indoor air two to five times more than outdoor air, possibly as high as 10 times more. Some products emit toxic chemicals for days, weeks or even months.  

An EWG investigation of more than 2,000 cleaning supplies on the American market also found many contain substances linked to serious health problems, including: 

  • Fumes that may induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals, such as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-16), alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chlorides, and others)
  • Probable or possible carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and preservatives, which release formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane
  • Chemicals known or suspected to be reproductive or developmental toxicants, such as sodium borate, boric acid and diethylene glycol monomethyl ether 

If the DOD moves away from cleaners containing PFAS and other unnecessary hazardous ingredients, it will help reduce chemical risks for service members, families in military housing and civilian workers on military installations. 

Next the Senate will consider its version of the fiscal year 2025 NDAA, which does not include the House provision about cleaning products.

To protect the health of service members and their families, the House and Senate must work together to require the DOD to use Safer Choice cleaning products as part of the final fiscal year 2025 NDAA.

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