March 20, 2019

Shaheen, Hassan Lead Letter to DOD & EPA Pressing for Answers on Reports of Efforts to Weaken Contamination Standards for PFAS

**Letter Comes in Response to Media Reports that DOD is Pushing for Weaker Cleanup Guidelines for PFAS & Follows Shaheen’s Questioning of Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan During SASC Committee Hearing**

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) led a group of sixteen Senators in sending a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, requesting the agencies to release communications they’ve had with the White House, and with each other, regarding the establishment of federal drinking water standards for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and groundwater pollution guidelines related to these chemicals. The Senators’ letter comes in response to recent media reports that the Department Of Defense (DOD) is requesting the White House to adopt substantially weaker guidelines for groundwater pollution caused by PFAS than those suggested by the EPA.

The Senators wrote, “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. 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.”

The Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, New Hampshire formerly served as an Air Force base and experienced considerable ground and drinking water contamination from PFAS chemicals. In May 2014, the city of Portsmouth closed the Haven well at Pease after the Air Force found levels of PFAS chemicals at 12.5 times higher than what was then the provisional health advisory from the EPA. Moreover, state health officials determined that more than 1,500 people, including children who attended day care centers near the site, have elevated levels of PFAS in their blood from drinking contaminated groundwater near Pease. Responding to PFAS contamination in water supplies has been a top priority for Shaheen and Hassan.

In their letter, the Senators continued, “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.”

The Senators go on to highlight the EPA’s recently released PFAS management plan, which commits the agency to developing interim groundwater cleanup recommendations that will assist state and federal agencies in protecting drinking water supplies contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two PFAS chemicals contained in formulations of AFFF. This commitment is contradicted by media reports that suggest the DOD opposes groundwater cleanup guidelines recommended by the EPA, and instead suggest that remedial action for PFOA and PFOS not occur unless the concentration levels of these chemicals exceed 400 parts per trillion or higher – nearly six times higher than the EPA’s lifetime health advisory for these chemicals.

The Senators underscore the significant risk to impacted communities posed by these extreme contamination levels and the limited number of sites eligible for cleanup and remediation. They close their letter by requesting that the DOD and EPA provide communication between the agencies and White House on efforts to set enforceable drinking water standards and groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFAS chemicals, and that they provide a joint briefing to their offices on interagency efforts on this issue.

Their letter can be read in full here. It was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Gary Peters (D-MI).

Senator Shaheen has spearheaded efforts in Congress to uncover the potential health effects related to PFAS contamination. Shaheen successfully established the first-ever nationwide health study on the impacts of PFAS substances in drinking water. Because of the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation’s efforts, Pease will serve as the model site for the nationwide PFAS health study. In the last Congress, Shaheen introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)—the Safe Drinking Water Assistance Act— that would improve federal efforts to identify and address the public health effects of emerging contaminants such as PFAS. In February, Senator Shaheen led a bipartisan letter, which Senator Hassan also signed, with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) that called on the EPA to establish federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, to which the EPA responded that it “intends” to establish these standards. 

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