CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) yesterday sent a bipartisan letter to members of the 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 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 President Trump 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 (DoD) 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 DoD.

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 in the FY21 NDAA to confront PFAS contamination at military installations in our communities. These provisions—all of which Senator Capito supported—include an amendment that authorizes $15 million to continue the PFAS health impact study of military communities around the country including Martinsburg, West Virginia, as well as a provision that 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 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.

Their letter can be read in full here.

In addition to Senator Capito, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). 

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