Defense bill includes funding for PFAS cleanup, phaseout of firefighting foam with the chemical

June 17, 2019
In The News

The key defense policy bill was advanced from the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning and includes several provisions related to perfluorinated chemical contamination, including $121.3 million for clean up work and remediation of drinking water on or near military installations.

Protecting service members and their families from possible health impacts from a toxic chemical found at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and more than 100 other military installations across the nation is a key priority in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The key defense policy bill was advanced from the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning and includes several provisions related to perfluorinated chemical contamination, including $121.3 million for clean up work and remediation of drinking water on or near military installations and ending the use of firefighting foam that contains the chemical.

The military has been investigating PFAS contamination at Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst, including the testing of more than 250 private drinking water wells, although it has found just five above an EPA health advisory level for the chemicals. It has also identified contamination in two on-base water wells on the Lakehurst side of the installation.

The contamination is suspected to be from a firefighting foam used at the joint base and others for decades, and PFAS exposure has been linked to several health problems, including testicular and kidney cancer, high cholesterol and thyroid disease.

The House legislation provides funding for clean up and also requires the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the best way to clean up PFAS-contaminated groundwater.

The bill also mandates the military to phase out the use of firefighting foam containing the chemical by 2029 and to quickly ban its use in training exercises.

Another provision pushed by Rep. Donald Nocross, D-1st of Camden, would require the Department of Defense to perform blood testing on both military and civilian firefighters who were potentially exposed to the chemical.

Another amendment authorizes the military to use funds to provide fresh water to communities impacted by PFAS contamination or the acquire land where the water is contaminated because of military activities.

Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd of Bordentown Township, helped pen the language for phasing out the use of the firefighting foam and during the marathon markup session he urged his colleagues on the panel to support its inclusion in the final bill.

“When we fight for our bases, it’s important that we do things like fight for new missions ... But it’s also important to fight to ensure that those servicemembers and their families are kept safe,” Kim said during his remarks. “That’s why I’m proud to have fought for language incorporated into the base text of this bill that will safely transition the Department of Defense off of the use of PFAS.”

“No family should ever have to give their child a glass of water and wonder what dangerous chemicals lurk inside. With millions being spent to clean up sites and find ways to access clean drinking water to avoid this dangerous chemical, now is the time to dedicate ourselves to righting this wrong in the future,” Kim added.

The Senate’s version of the defense bill includes a more aggressive phase out of the chemical. It calls for the military to cease using firefighting foams made with the chemical by October 2022 and to prohibit use on military installations by 2023, with the exception of ocean-going vessels.

The full House and Senate are expected to take up their respective versions of the defense bill later this summer. If approved, a conference committee made up of members from both chambers will meet to negotiate a uniform bill that both chambers will vote on.