Menendez, Colleagues Question Why Defense Dept. Would Push to Weaken Standards Linked to Contamination Discovered at Joint Base, Earle

Menendez, Colleagues Question Why Defense Dept. Would Push to Weaken Standards Linked to Contamination Discovered at Joint Base, Earle

Media reports reveal DOD pressuring White House to lower standards for chemicals commonly found on U.S. military bases

 

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined his colleagues today in demanding answers from the Department of Defense (DOD), which is pressuring the White House to adopt weaker contamination standards for toxic chemicals and known carcinogens commonly found on military bases, including the source of contamination recently discovered in the drinking water around Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) and Naval Weapons Station Earle. The New York Times reported last week that the DOD could be forced to spend billions of dollars in cleanup costs if the higher Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards are implemented. 

“If this reporting is accurate, the DOD’s actions may endanger the health of servicemembers and families who live and work near the 401 military installations where there are known or suspected releases of PFAS [polyfluoroalkyl substances] chemicals in the drinking water or groundwater,” the senators wrote in a letter DoD Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We urge you to act in the best interests of impacted communities and support efforts to develop groundwater and drinking water standards that will protect the public from the health hazards associated with PFAS contamination.”

PFAS are dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects and immune suppression. 

A recent study conducted by the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group found that firefighting foam containing PFAS used at JBMDL and Earle seeped into the ground and contaminated the groundwater in and around each base. Samples of drinking water taken at JBMDL showed contamination levels 24 times higher than the national threshold. Levels were three times higher at Earle.

The senators are requesting the DOD and EPA to release communications they have had with the White House, and with each other, regarding the establishment of federal drinking water standards for PFAS and groundwater pollution guidelines related to these chemicals.

“Setting a containment level that provides the highest level of safety for our servicemembers and military families should be critical for this administration. This can only happen if the DOD and EPA are constructive partners,” the lawmakers wrote. “Therefore, we reiterate the request of our colleagues and ask that the DOD and EPA provide our offices with any communications your agencies have had with the White House regarding the establishment of standards for PFAS chemicals and groundwater pollution related to these chemicals. We also request that the DOD and EPA provide a joint agency briefing to our offices and interested members on interagency efforts on this issue, as well as regular updates on the progress of those efforts.”

Joining Sen. Menendez on the letter to the DOD and EPA are Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.).  

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan and Administrator Wheeler:

We write to you regarding an article published on March 14, 2019, in the New York Times citing that the Department of Defense (DOD) is requesting the White House adopt substantially weaker standards for groundwater pollution caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals than those suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If this reporting is accurate, the DOD’s actions may endanger the health of servicemembers and families who live and work near the 401 military installations where there are known or suspected releases of PFAS chemicals in the drinking water or groundwater.[1] We urge you to act in the best interests of impacted communities and support efforts to develop groundwater and drinking water standards that will protect the public from the health hazards associated with PFAS contamination.

As you are aware, PFAS materials are a byproduct of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant agent used at military installations, and have been associated with a variety of adverse human health effects, including birth defects and immune system dysfunction. Given the significant public health concerns related to these chemicals, immediate action must be taken to reduce exposure to PFAS and address any potential negative health effects contamination from these materials may have on our communities.

On February 13, 2019, the EPA released its PFAS management plan, and committed to developing interim groundwater cleanup recommendations that will assist state and federal agencies in protecting drinking water supplies at sites contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two PFAS chemicals contained in formulations of AFFF. Regrettably, the New York Times and additional reports[2] suggest that the DOD has strongly opposed groundwater cleanup guidelines recommended by the EPA, and instead suggested that remedial action for PFOA and PFOS should not occur unless the concentration levels of these chemicals exceed 400 parts per trillion or higher. This value is nearly six times higher than the EPA’s lifetime health advisory for these chemicals. Such extreme contamination levels pose an unacceptable risk to impacted communities and would substantially limit the number of sites eligible for cleanup and remediation.

Setting a containment level that provides the highest level of safety for our servicemembers and military families should be critical for this administration. This can only happen if the DOD and EPA are constructive partners. Therefore, we reiterate the request of our colleagues[3] and ask that the DOD and EPA provide our offices with any communications your agencies have had with the White House regarding the establishment of standards for PFAS chemicals and groundwater pollution related to these chemicals. We also request that the DOD and EPA provide a joint agency briefing to our offices and interested members on interagency efforts on this issue, as well as regular updates on the progress of those efforts.

As the leaders of agencies paramount to the safety and security of our nation, it is crucial that DOD and EPA work collaboratively to address the health and environmental challenges associated with PFAS. We thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

 

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