Shaheen Leads Bipartisan Letter to House & Senate Armed Services Committee Leadership Urging Inclusion of PFAS Provisions in Final FY21 NDAA

October 08, 2020

Shaheen Boosted Funding for PFAS Health Impact Study to $15M in Senate-Approved FY21 NDAA, Highest Funding Level Ever to Continue Study She Established in FY18 Defense Bill

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a bipartisan letter on behalf of 20 Senators yesterday to Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership urging the inclusion of several provisions in the final fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prevent and address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. The NDAA is annual defense legislation that authorizes the United States’ national defense programs and priorities for the fiscal year. The Senate and House passed FY2021 defense bills earlier this year and leadership from both committees are currently 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.

In their letter, the Senators underscored the 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 (AFFF) used 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. The Senators also expressed concern about occupational exposure for firefighters in particular, who are more exposed to these chemicals through the use of firefighting foam, and also potentially through their personal protective equipment (PPE). They argued that the serious health implications tied to these chemicals coupled with unknown long-term health effects demands action from Congress and the attention of the Department of Defense. The Senators wrote, “We acknowledge the ongoing efforts of the Department of Defense (DOD); however, additional action is needed to address the immediate concerns of citizens near these military bases who are desperate to know what exposure to these contaminants means for their health and the health of their families.”

The Senators closed their letter with a request for House and Senate committee leadership to include a number of provisions, most of which are led by Senator Shaheen, in the FY21 NDAA to confront PFAS contamination at military installations in our communities. These provisions include Shaheen’s amendment to the Senate bill that authorizes $15 million to continue the PFAS health impact study she established in the FY2018 defense bill, as well as provision that mirrors Shaheen’s standalone legislation and would require PFAS blood testing for service members during their annual periodic health assessment (PHA) if it is determined they were stationed at one of the more than 600 military installations contaminated by PFAS. The Senators requested that this provision not only be retained in the final bill, but that it be expanded – as Shaheen’s legislation does – to include testing for military families and veterans who served on contaminated bases.  The Senators also requested that the defense bill include a measure spearheaded by Shaheen that would authorize a comprehensive study of firefighters’ PPE to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS and also establishes a federal grant program to advance development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in PPE, which is based on Shaheen’s standalone legislation with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO).

The Senators closed their letter by urging the conference committee to include a measure that modifies the authority for environmental restoration projects of the National Guard and provides technical corrections to ensure restoration of contamination by PFOS and PFOA, as well as a provision that would require the Secretary of Defense to evaluate available firefighting technologies or substances to be adapted for use by DOD to facilitate the phase-out of firefighting foam that contains PFAS chemicals. Last year, Senator Shaheen successfully included a provision in the FY2020 NDAA that will phase out the use of PFAS in DOD firefighting foams and prohibit its use in the military after October 1, 2024. That provision also requires the military to publish a new firefighting foam military specification by January 1, 2023 and ensure it is available for use by October 1, 2023.

Their letter can be read in full here.

In addition to Senator Shaheen, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Bob Casey (D-PA).

Senator Shaheen has spearheaded efforts in Congress to uncover the potential health effects related to PFAS contamination, respond to the chemical exposure and remediate polluted sites. In this year’s NDAA that cleared the Senate, Senator Shaheen worked to direct the Department of Defense to explore PFAS destruction technology. In last year's NDAA that was signed into law, Senator Shaheen included her legislation with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would require the DOD to include blood testing for PFAS as part of routine physicals for military firefighters.