Environmental Groups Call for Government to Label 'Forever Chemicals' Contaminating Estimated 400 Military Sites as 'Hazardous Substances'

Eighty-two environmental organizations expressed concern on Tuesday that Senator Jim Inhofe had stripped language about so-called "forever chemicals" suspected to affect 400 U.S. military sites from the National Defense Authorization Bill.

In a "skinny" NDAA bill submitted last month, Inhofe, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, removed language regarding pervasive Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in range of firefighting foams. The issue has sparked concern that contaminants, which have been linked to cancer but are not yet regulated by the federal government, would continue affecting water sources at military sites.

"We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, are deeply troubled by proposals to remove critical provisions related to per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, from the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020," the letter from environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Health and Earthjustice, said in the Tuesday letter. The groups also urged Inhofe to designate PFAS as "hazardous substances" to alter the way the military is legally required to clean up PFAS contamination.

While focused on PFAS contamination of military sites, the note illuminates growing awareness and concern of PFAS contamination across the country. The Environmental Working Group says PFAS have been found in 49 states, and Politico reported last week that PFAS contamination was detected at President Donald Trump's "Summer White House," the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Increasing discovery of the chemicals, which are found in a range of consumer items including cooking materials, has provoked rising concern from environmental organizations and legislators.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said it will start regulation PFOS and PFOA, the two most common PFAS, by the end of the year. But environmental groups have decried the pace of the EPA move to restrict the chemicals and have sought to assert pressure through other methods, such as the NDAA.

"It's not that we're not focusing on EPA, it's that this has amendments attached to the military spending bill that could be good in moving the ball along in helping to tackle PFAS contamination," Michael Kelly, the Director of Communications at advocacy group Clean Water Action, which signed the Tuesday letter, told Newsweek. Noting that the EPA did not seem "inclined" to address emergent PFAS contamination, he added "PFAS is everywhere, and so we've really got to take a look at reducing the risk of PFAS anywhere we can do that."

Despite the public pressure, Inhofe and his House counterpart appear ready to let the NDAA proceed without PFAS language.

Though initial House and Senate versions of the NDAA included provisions addressing the contamination, Inhofe said last week that such provisions fall outside the scope of the military funding agreement.

"It is important to note, Inhofe is still working towards a comprehensive deal—and nothing is decided until everything is decided — so he's not talking about dropping anything, including PFAS, yet," a spokeswoman for Inhofe told Newsweek, noting that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith had also said he would not let PFAS provisions halt military funding.

"But what he has been clear about, like during floor consideration, items that fall outside of the Armed Services Committee's purview, like PFAS, need to get worked out in their committees of jurisdiction," the spokeswoman said.

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Cadets practice marching before the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony on May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Environmental Groups Call for Government to Label 'Forever Chemicals' Contaminating Estimated 400 Military Sites as 'Hazardous Substances' | News