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Shaheen, senators urge funds to fight PFAS contamination

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is urging House and Senate leaders to include provisions aimed at addressing PFAS water contamination in the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

Shaheen led a letter sent to members of the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees, which was signed by other senators, including Maggie Hassan, D-N.H,, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The senators cite adverse health effects tied to PFAS chemicals, two of which – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – have emerged as widespread contaminants to the drinking water sources of military bases across the country due to their use in aqueous firefighting foam by the military.

They cited the Department of Defense's PFAS Task Force report updating the count of military installations impacted by these materials from 401 to 651.

"Initial analysis have linked PFAS materials with high birth defects, various forms of cancer and immune system dysfunction," the senators' letter states. "Moreover on June 11, the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a statement expressing concern about how PFAS exposure can impact the risk of COVID-19 infection."

"The uncertainty associated with the health impacts of these materials has caused great public concern for members of the military and veterans who have served at hundreds of bases found to be contaminated with these materials," the letter states.

The NDAA is annual defense legislation that authorizes the national defense programs and priorities for the fiscal year. The Senate and House passed FY21 defense bills earlier this year and leadership from both committees are now negotiating a final version of the bill to be considered by both chambers of Congress before going to the president to be signed into law.

The senators closed their letter with a request for House and Senate committee leadership to include a number of provisions to confront PFAS contamination at military installations. Provisions include Shaheen’s amendment to the Senate bill that authorizes $15 million to continue the PFAS health impact study she established in the FY18 defense bill, along with provisions that mirror her standalone legislation that would require PFAS blood testing for military service members during their annual health assessments.

The senators requested the defense bill include a measure led by Shaheen authorizing a comprehensive study of firefighters’ personal protective equipment to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS and establish a federal grant program to advance development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in PPE.

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 source of PFAS is from aqueous film-forming foam used at the former Air Force base.

The city closed the well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well. The Air Force in July 2019 activated a groundwater filtration plant it says will remove contaminants.