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Air Force diverted $66M from projects for chemical cleanup costs

By
Allen Cone
A stockpile of petroleum-contaminated dirt at the Galena landfarm is shown in summer 2017. Galena Air Force Station was turned over to a contractor in 1993, but the Air Force retains responsibility for toxin cleanup in the area. Photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Soil Prevention and Response
A stockpile of petroleum-contaminated dirt at the Galena landfarm is shown in summer 2017. Galena Air Force Station was turned over to a contractor in 1993, but the Air Force retains responsibility for toxin cleanup in the area. Photo courtesy of Alaska Division of Soil Prevention and Response

June 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force diverted more than $66 million to cover the cleanup costs of harmful "forever chemicals" in the water supply in the past two years, according to an analysis by the Department of Defense.

The class of chemicals, called perfluorooctanic acid and commonly referred to as PFAS, have been widely used by the military in firefighting foam.

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Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, had requested the analysis, was among four Democratic senators who had requested a list of all diversions, or planned diversions, of funds intended for a site cleanup of non-PFAS contamination to PFAS cleanup efforts.

Carper released the letter he received from the Pentagon.

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"Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars -- perhaps billions of dollars -- in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities," Carper said in a statement. "Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination. We also need to understand that this problem is not just a money matter."

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Originally, the funds were intended for projects that included asbestos abatement, radiological cleanup, removing contaminated soil, repairing the protective covering for a landfill, and monitoring water for contaminants and pesticides.

Specifically more than $37 million was diverted from a landfill cap repair and soil investigation and remediation project at former Galena Air Station, Alaska; and $8.6 million from radiological cleanup in McClellan AFB, Calif. Also, there was munition response investigations and cleanups, including nearly $2 million at Bergstrom AFB, Texas; $1.4 million in Chanute AFB, Ill.; and $2.9 million at Williams AFB, Ill.

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"There are a number of ways that Congress must begin tackling this multi-faceted problem," Carper said. "For starters, Congress should declare PFAS as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. That would greatly reduce the slow bureaucracy that so often prolongs the process for cleaning up contaminated sites, which just creates more anxiety for communities concerned about known or potential contamination."

The Army and Navy "have been able to address these emerging requirements without diverting funds" not intended for PFAS cleanup, according to the Pentagon.

"DoD takes its cleanup responsibility seriously and undertakes these actions in an open and transparent manner," wrote Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of the Department of Defense, said in the letter dated June 5. "Our priority is to quickly address the presence of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctane acid (PFOA) in drinking water that resulted from DoD activities."

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Lord said the Pentagon is addressing the chemicals based on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability act of 1980.

In March, the four Senators -- Carper, Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash. -- also sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget and Department of Health and Human Services requesting all documents and communications between the agencies related to the interagency review of EPA's February 2019 "PFAS Action Plan" and EPA's long-awaited groundwater cleanup guidelines for PFAS.

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, that would force the Pentagon to phase out the use of firefighting foams with PFAS.

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