Shaheen questions defense secretary on PFAS safeguards

March 14, 2019

PORTSMOUTH -- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen questioned Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan Thursday about a published report that states the Pentagon is lobbying the Trump administration to adopt a weaker standard for PFAS chemicals.

The New York Times reported the Pentagon is lobbying the administration to weaken the PFAS standard for groundwater as the Environmental Protection Agency is working to set tougher standards.

Shaheen, D-N.H., told Shanahan she was "quite concerned" about the New York Times report.

"You and I first had a chance to talk about PFAS chemicals and how they're affecting the former Pease Air Force Base in 2017," Shaheen told Shanahan during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday morning in Washington, D.C. "I told you about the hundreds of people, children, who had been drinking water, and those chemicals have now showed up (in their blood tests.)"

"No one knows what the long-term health impacts of drinking that water is," she added.

She also pointed to the 401 military facilities nationwide dealing with PFAS contamination and said she is "very concerned about the fact that the Department of Defense would be trying to reduce the standard that the EPA is setting to try to ensure that drinking water is safe."

Shaheen added the PFAS standards will not just impact civilians, "but ... our members of the military,"

"I don't understand how you and the Department of Defense can be trying to reduce the standards that affect drinking water for literally millions of people across the country," Shaheen said.

Shanahan said he wasn’t familiar with the article, but pledged to "look at what the actual situation is in terms of the standards."

"What I am is accountable and responsible for the safety and security of our men and women," he said during Thursday’s hearing. "You have my assurance that we will continue to do that. I will look into this matter. I take these matters personally, very, very seriously, just as we have talked before."

Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day-care centers there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well up until its closure in 2014. The city closed the polluted well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well.

The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA at 70 parts per trillion.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, which is believed to have contaminated the Haven Well.

The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has stated PFAS chemicals are a suspected carcinogen, can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body’s hormones.

Shaheen also asked Shanahan if he "could confirm or deny whether DOD has urged a lowering of the standard that the EPA is trying to put in place."

Shanahan said he couldn’t "speak to that specific."

"I will very quickly get an answer back to you," he added.

Shaheen thanked him and added "that’s something that’s important for the entire committee to know because as you know installations across the country are affected And we don’t really know what the long-term health impacts are. So getting those answers are very important."

Shaheen helped pass legislation that created the first national health study on the effects of drinking water contaminated with PFAS, which will include a pilot study for the Pease community.

By:  Jeff McMenemy
Source: Portsmouth Herald