In Final Defense Bill, Too Little Progress on ‘Forever Chemicals’

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For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, December 3, 2020

WASHINGTON – A House-Senate conference committee today approved a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021, which both houses will vote on before it goes to the White House for President Trump’s signature or veto. Here is the statement of Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president of government affairs, on the NDAA provisions concerning the toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

We’re grateful that the NDAA once again seeks to address the PFAS contamination crisis by banning some Defense Department uses of PFAS, by expanding PFAS research and by accelerating efforts to develop PFAS-free firefighting gear and firefighting foams. The bill also requires the Defense Department to warn nearby farmers if their irrigation water may be contaminated.

But the NDAA falls far short of what’s needed to address the contamination crisis facing our service members and neighboring communities. PFAS have been confirmed in the groundwater of 328 military installations and are suspected in the groundwater at hundreds of other bases.

Tragically, this bill will do little to clean up the existing legacy contamination at bases and nearby communities and does nothing to hold polluters or the Pentagon accountable when they fail to act to protect us. What’s more, the bill fails to expand PFAS blood testing to all service members, even though growing evidence suggests that the PFAS in our blood make vaccines less effective.

The bill also fails to ensure that legacy firefighting foams are properly disposed of. Although we are pleased that legislators recognize the need to make PFAS a priority, this NDAA fails to do so.

Our service members take enormous risks to protect us. Sadly, too many members of Congress are afraid to take political risks to protect them. Some would rather protect the polluters than the people who risk their lives to protect our nation.

By contrast, President-elect Biden has pledged to make the PFAS pollution crisis a top priority. In particular, Biden has pledged to designate PFOA and PFOS, the most notorious PFAS chemicals, as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law, which will accelerate the cleanup process at military bases and ensure that polluters pay their fair share of cleanup costs. He has also pledged to end the use of PFAS in many everyday consumer products and to quickly establish a national drinking water standard for PFAS in tap water.

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