October 15, 2020

Gillibrand Presses Leadership To Maintain Critical PFAS Provisions In Final NDAA Negotiations

Gillibrand Successfully Pushed for Senate Bill To Address PFAS Contamination And Promote Transition From AFFF Materials Containing PFAS

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, alongside U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), pressed Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership to maintain critical per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) provisions in the final FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Because of the use of aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) by the military, PFAS chemicals, like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have contaminated more than 600 military bases across the country and threatened drinking water safety. America’s firefighters also experience high risk of PFAS exposure — which has been linked to birth defects, various forms of cancer, and immune system dysfunction — during use of AFFF in firefighting and fire-training exercises, these substances have also been found in their PPE. To protect the health of servicemembers, firefighters, and their families, Gillibrand pushed for the Senate Armed Service Committee to include language to address PFAS contamination at military sites. Now, Gillibrand and her colleagues are fighting to ensure the PFAS provisions passed by the Senate and other important PFAS provisions included in the House bill are included in the final legislation.  

“Our servicemembers risk their lives to keep us safe, and Congress has a duty to protect their health and provide the resources needed. These important provisions will help us better understand the scope and consequences of toxic PFAS exposure, preserve the health of our servicemembers, and find safe alternatives,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our men and women in uniform should be able to trust that their water, environment, and equipment is not destroying their health. I was proud to push for these provisions in the bipartisan Senate-passed NDAA and I insist House and Senate leadership ensure they are included in the final bill to combat the urgent issue of PFAS contamination.”

Specifically, Gillibrand is calling for the following provisions: 

  • Sec. 322 of the Senate-passed bill would increase the authorized amount for the ongoing PFAS health study from $10 million to $15 million and make a similar adjustment to DOD’s authority to transfer funds to ATSDR for the purposes of the study. The FY18 NDAA authorized the ATSDR to conduct a five-year nationwide study on the human health implications of PFAS contamination in drinking water and other sources of water. Due to COVID-19, ATSDR expects to incur additional costs associated with continuing the study as well as a one-year delay in finalizing the results. To ensure that the PFAS health study continues without delay, we urge that no less than $15 million be included for the study in the FY21 NDAA. 
  • Sec. 703 of the House-passed bill, which 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.  We request that this provision be retained and expanded to include testing for military families and veterans who served on contaminated bases.
  • Sec. 341 of the House-passed bill, which would authorize a comprehensive study of the personal protective equipment worn by firefighters to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS, as well as firefighters’ risk of exposure to these chemicals from the gear. The provision would also establish a federal grant program to advance the development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in personal protective equipment.
  • Sec. 311 of the Senate-passed bill would modify the authority for environmental restoration projects of the National Guard and provide technical corrections to the statute governing the Defense Environmental Restoration Program to ensure restoration of contamination by PFOS and PFOA.
  • Sec. 313 of the Senate-passed bill would require the Secretary of Defense to conduct a survey and market research of available firefighting technologies or substances available to be adapted for use by the Department of Defense to facilitate the phase-out of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam. The Secretary would be required to brief the congressional defense committees on the results of the survey and market research within 180 days of enactment.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Reed, Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry:

As House and Senate conferees negotiate the final Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we write to you to include several sections that work towards preventing and addressing potential harm caused by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS chemicals, like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have emerged as a widespread contaminant to the drinking water sources of military bases across the country due to their use in aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) used by the military. The number of military installations with known or suspected contamination from PFAS continues to rise. In March, the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force released a report updating the count of military installation impacted by these materials from 401 to 651, while other studies suggest this as a conservative estimate. PFAS materials are classified as “emerging contaminants” as their long-term cumulative effects on human health is not yet known. However, initial analyses have linked PFAS materials with birth defects, various forms of cancer and immune system dysfunction. 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 the hundreds of bases found to be contaminated with these materials.

The ties between PFAS and a number of adverse health impacts are also of concern to our nation’s firefighters, many of whom experience prolonged occupational exposure to PFAS due to the use of AFFF in firefighting and fire-training exercise. However, research has demonstrated that these chemicals are not only found in firefighting foam, but also in the personal protective equipment firefighters wear on the job. There is a critical need to better understand how PFAS exposure from personal protective equipment may affect the health and safety of these brave men and women.

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. Therefore, we request that the following provisions are retained in the final version of the NDAA for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021: 

  • Sec. 322 of the Senate-passed bill would increase the authorized amount for the ongoing PFAS health study from $10 million to $15 million and make a similar adjustment to DOD’s authority to transfer funds to ATSDR for the purposes of the study. The FY18 NDAA authorized the ATSDR to conduct a five-year nationwide study on the human health implications of PFAS contamination in drinking water and other sources of water. Due to COVID-19, ATSDR expects to incur additional costs associated with continuing the study as well as a one-year delay in finalizing the results. To ensure that the PFAS health study continues without delay, we urge that no less than $15 million be included for the study in the FY21 NDAA.
  • Sec. 703 of the House-passed bill, which 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. We request that this provision be retained and expanded to include testing for military families and veterans who served on contaminated bases.
  • Sec. 341 of the House-passed bill, which would authorize a comprehensive study of the personal protective equipment worn by firefighters to determine the prevalence and concentration of PFAS, as well as firefighters’ risk of exposure to these chemicals from the gear. The provision would also establish a federal grant program to advance the development of safe alternatives to PFAS chemicals in personal protective equipment.
  • Sec. 311 of the Senate-passed bill would modify the authority for environmental restoration projects of the National Guard and provide technical corrections to the statute governing the Defense Environmental Restoration Program to ensure restoration of contamination by PFOS and PFOA. 
  • Sec. 313 of the Senate-passed bill would require the Secretary of Defense to conduct a survey and market research of available firefighting technologies or substances available to be adapted for use by the Department of Defense to facilitate the phase-out of fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam. The Secretary would be required to brief the congressional defense committees on the results of the survey and market research within 180 days of enactment. 

We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to working with you to ensure these bipartisan provisions are included in the final version of the FY2021 NDAA.

Sincerely,