Shaheen, Murkowski Lead Bipartisan Letter to DOD Requesting Update on Firefighter Blood Testing

December 23, 2021

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) – a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – led a bipartisan letter with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and 20 other Senators to the Department of Defense (DOD), in response to the DOD’s Inspector General report on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure mitigation and prevention at DOD installations. The investigation revealed a lack of proactive measures taken to limit exposure to substances that may expose people and the environment to PFAS, as well as an underutilization of the data collected through the PFAS blood testing program for DOD firefighters. The Senators’ letter calls for a briefing on the status of the Department’s development of a plan to track, trend and analyze DOD firefighter PFAS blood testing results, and interim steps DOD can take to improve exposure visibility based on the blood testing data currently being collected.  

The Senators wrote, “…PFAS contamination has been found or is suspected at nearly 700 current and former DoD installations across the country. The use of PFAS-laden firefighting foam (AFFF) has contaminated water supplies, causing untold harm to service members, military families and defense communities. As first responders, DoD firefighters have unique and recurring exposure to AFFF for training and emergency response that have placed them at greater risk of health complications such as cancer, diabetes and high cholesterol. Additionally, there are concerns that firefighters can also be exposed to PFAS over time through their protective clothing, known as turnout gear. However, the full extent of PFAS exposure for DoD firefighters was unknown due to inadequate data collection processes.”

The Senators went on to cite the Protecting Military Firefighters from PFAS Act, which Shaheen and Murkowski led and successfully included in the fiscal year (FY) 2021 defense bill that became law, required DOD to provide firefighters with PFAS blood testing to determine the severity of their exposures and for inclusion in their health records.

The Senators continued, “While the DOD OIG report found that the Department was complying with the requirement to provide PFAS blood testing to firefighters, it also found that there was no plan to ‘track, trend, and analyze the results…”

They concluded, “Therefore, we respectfully request a briefing on the status on the Department’s development of a plan to track, trend and analyze DOD firefighter PFAS blood testing results and opportunities to improve exposure visibility based on the blood testing data currently being collected.”

The Senators’ letter can be read in full here.

In addition to Shaheen and Murkowski, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Carper (D-DE), Collins (R-ME), Reed (D-RI), Gillibrand (D-NY), Blumenthal (D-CT), Hassan (D-NH), Casey (D-PA), Warren (D-MA), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Sanders (I-VT), Wyden (D-OR), Rosen (D-NV), Durbin (D-IL), Bennet (D-CO), Ossoff (D-GA), Van Hollen (D-MD), King (I-ME), Peters (D-MI) and Padilla (D-CA).

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. Senator Shaheen was successful in including PFAS provisions in the FY 2022 defense bill that was recently sent to the President’s desk. She successfully fought for the authorization of an additional $15 million to continue the PFAS health impact study that she created in the FY2018 NDAA. Shaheen also successfully added her comprehensive PFAS amendment based on her legislation, the PFAS Exposure Assessment and Documentation Act, which would codify a PFAS Task Force to address these toxic chemicals. The amendment would also require DOD to complete PFAS testing of installations within two years, direct DOD to develop a remediation schedule for contaminated sites and report on the status of cleanup at certain sites – including Pease. The final text also included efforts Shaheen championed in the Senate to temporarily halt the incineration of PFAS substances until the Department of Defense ensures it is adhering to existing laws and to close a loophole through which DOD may have been skirting incineration rules. In addition, the text includes requirements for a report on DOD procurement of certain items containing PFAS and additional public disclosures of results of drinking and ground water testing, as well as improved guidance for spill prevention and mitigation of AFFF.

These PFAS provisions that will soon become law are in addition to $10 billion to address PFAS, which Shaheen included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Shaheen helped lead negotiations on water provisions in the new infrastructure law.

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