Michigan Legislators Introduce Legislation To Ensure Health Care for Veterans Exposed to PFAS Chemicals

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For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, April 4, 2019

WASHINGTON – Today Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), with members of the bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force, introduced the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act. This legislation will ensure that veterans and their families exposed to toxic fluorinated compounds at military installations get the health care services and benefits they need through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Under the VET PFAS Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs would be required to cover the costs of treating any veterans’ or family members’ health problems triggered by exposure to PFAS chemicals while living and serving on military bases.

These illnesses will also be considered a “service-connected disability,” making veterans and their families exposed to PFAS eligible for disability payments and medical treatment from the VA.

“We applaud Sen. Stabenow, Rep. Kildee and the entire bipartisan group of lawmakers for standing with the nation’s veterans and their families, who have struggled with exposure to these chemicals,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney with EWG. “If there is any group of fellow Americans who deserves the best possible care from our government, which caused their exposure to these toxic chemicals, it is our nation’s veterans and their families.”

PFAS on military bases is widespread because, for nearly 50 years, the Pentagon has used firefighting foam containing these chemicals. Studies link PFAS exposure to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, among an array of serious health problems.

Rep. Kildee is the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force, which works with members of Congress to address more urgently the PFAS public health threat.

In March, EWG released a report that found water sampled on or near at least 106 military sites was contaminated with PFAS chemicals, above what EPA considers safe, according to Department of Defense data. But that’s only the tip of a toxic iceberg.

EWG’s report includes an interactive map of bases identified from a Defense Department presentation to Congress last year. It also lays out how the Pentagon long knew about the health hazards of PFAS chemicals but continued using the toxic firefighting foam until a few years ago.

 “Members of the military and their families share an outsize burden because of their exposure to PFAS contamination,” said Benesh, co-author of the report. “The Pentagon must finally own up to its responsibility and clean up the mess it not only helped create but perpetuated for decades.”

PFAS chemicals were first created and introduced into commerce in the 1940s. The two best known are PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Those chemicals have been phased out in the U.S.

PFAS cleanup at military facilities would fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program. In 1986, Congress amended the Superfund law to include active and decommissioned military facilities, and established the Defense Environmental Restoration Program to address pollution at both active and decommissioned military installations.

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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.