WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and a bipartisan group of senators in sending a letter to Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership urging the inclusion of several provisions in the final fiscal year 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 the President to be signed into law.
Senator Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been a leader on PFAS efforts to address and clean up contamination sites that include dairy farms in New Mexico that have been upended by PFAS contamination from nearby Cannon Air Force Base.
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 within and nearby military bases across the country due to their use in aqueous firefighting foam (AFFF) used by the military.
The senators also cited the Department of Defense’s PFAS Task Force report updating the count of military installations impacted by these materials from 401 to 651. The letter expresses 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). The lawmakers 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 Department of Defense.
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.”
In the FY20 NDAA, Senator Heinrich worked to include several provisions aimed at providing the Department of Defense with the authority provide clean drinking water or treat impacted water sources to areas of the country like Clovis that have been severely impacted by contamination from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. The FY20 bill also gave the Air Force the authority to purchase real property that has been impacted by PFAS exposure and required the DOD to submit a remediation plan for cleanup of contaminated water at or adjacent to military installations. In February, Senator Heinrich sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper urging the Department of Defense (DoD) work to implement these provisions.
In a key Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to review the Air Force Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2021 in March, Senator Heinrich raised the need to coordinate with local and state officials to address PFAS contamination in Clovis. Senator Heinrich, along with the rest of the New Mexico Congressional delegation, reemphasized the need for the Air Force to maintain dialogue with local stakeholders during a call to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett in early October.
The letter, led by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), was also signed by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), 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.), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.).
Read the full text of the letter here.