WASHINGTON, DC – The efforts of the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to clean up chemicals known as PFAS are an example of “the bureaucracy is unleasheda Michigan conservationist testified before a US Senate committee examining the response to pollution at military bases where toxic chemicals in fire fighting foam have poisoned nearby waters.
Tony Spaniola, a lawyer and senior national advocate for PFAS who fought the military for its Michigan pollution cleanup, called defense officials unreliable and opaque during his testimony Thursday, Dec. 9 on Capitol Hill outside the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Spaniola, who owns a house near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, criticized the Pentagon’s response to the anemic contamination in Michigan and elsewhere as an abuse of power marked by endless strategic delays that have eroded trust of the public in the Ministry of Defense.
“What you hear from the department comes from the bottom and doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the ground,” said Spaniola, who urged lawmakers and remedial officials in Washington to strengthen the “citizen perspective” in the socket. corrective decision.
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His testimony followed that of Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Environment at the Department of Defense, who appeared with Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Health, Laura Macaluso, to answer questions at the second hearing of the PFAS in Congress this week.
Thursday’s hearing followed a hearing by the United States House Environment Subcommittee on Tuesday which presented testimony of Abby Hendershott, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART), which coordinates the state’s efforts to manage PFAS investigations and clean-ups within the Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and the Energy (EGLE).
It also followed an executive order from President Joe Biden, which directed the government on Wednesday to seek alternatives to PFAS during federal public procurement.
The hearing Thursday mainly focused on the findings of an Inspector General’s audit released in July, which criticized the Pentagon for failing to investigate military firefighters’ exposure to PFAS-based fire extinguisher foam. The report also criticized the Defense Department for acting slowly after being alerted in 2011 to the threat posed by its decades-long use of PFAS-laden aqueous film-forming foam known as AFFF.
Since the DoD only began to take proactive risk management measures when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set advisory levels for the individual compounds PFOS and PFOA in the drinking water in 2016, âpeople and the environment may have been exposed to preventable risks from PFAS. âContaining AFFF, ” the report says.
The chairman of the committee, US Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan, denounced a “serious flaw” in the Pentagon’s efforts, criticizing its slow response and its attempts to evade responsibility.
âEveryone’s patience is running out, as it should be, with this battle,â said Peters.
Kidd and Macaluso attributed the situation to scientific “uncertainty” regarding the health effects of PFAS, echoing, undisputed by senators, common arguments advanced by the makers of PFAS and others facing exhibition liability. Macaluso said more health studies are needed before the Pentagon can develop occupational exposure limits, while Kidd said it is “still not clear what exposure and at what levels lead to occupational exposure. adverse health effects “.
“The lack of this clear set of measurable and objective health and environmental standards complicates our ability to take proactive action,” said Kidd, who later claimed that no community in the United States drank the water. contaminated by the military above the EPA advisory level of 70. parts per trillion (ppt) – a safety benchmark widely viewed as inadequate by independent toxicologists, states like Michigan with more stringent standards and, potentially, the EPA itself, which released new preliminary analyzes for PFOS and PFOA last month indicating that there may not be a safe level of exposure in drinking water.
Kidd’s testimony was preceded by that of Sean O’Donnell, Inspector General of the EPA and DoD, who testified that the EPA’s drinking water advisories “have not kept pace with new chemicals of concern” and criticized the EPA for its communication on the risks posed by exposure, saying that “in particular , when it comes to PFAS, states are well ahead of the EPA when it comes to chemical safety and the risks associated with these chemicals.
In response to Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Who asked how long corrective activities could take at facilities like Nellis Air Force Base, Kidd said it could take decades or more.
âThe CERCLA process in some cases can go on indefinitely,â Kidd said, using an acronym for the Environmental Response, Compensation and Comprehensive Liability Act, also known as the Superfund Act, which prescribes a rigid process. that the military is tracking for toxic cleanups, which may take years of extended investigations before corrective action takes place.
The process allows for interim cleanings earlier. Two of these are under development at Wurtsmith, where the Air Force is expanding two existing groundwater treatment facilities to capture more PFAS flowing into Lake Van Etten and the Clark’s Marsh wetland. Interim clean-up efforts began last year following pressure from lawmakers and activists.
“I think this serves as a good model for what we can do at other facilities in the future,” said Kidd, who called Wurtsmith an “interesting case” that he has studied “at length.”
Spaniola, who testified from an increasingly empty room after senators who did not teleconference left after asking their first questions, said the CERCLA process excluded ordinary citizens. He pointed out the Michigan Citizens Advisory Task Force (GTCA) as an example of how the federal government could strengthen and increase citizen participation.
Spaniola said the contamination has become a burden on the Oscoda region, which is subject to health warnings regarding groundwater, surface water moss and the consumption of fish and wildlife. The Air Force’s refusal to accept responsibility for contamination below 70 ppm transferred responsibility for the extension of the municipal water pipes to the township of Oscoda, which took on debt to finance the extensions. utilities for which owners must pay connection fees.
He criticized the Air Force’s “narrow view” of its responsibility outside the base’s old terrain, calling it “a serious problem” that the Air Force is contesting its connection to several plumes where AFFF has been used to. fight forest or structural fires, including at the local level. school complex.
Andrea Amico, a mother from New Hampshire who created the Testing For Pease group Once the contamination was found in the water at her daughter’s day care center on the former grounds of Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, testified that there are many private wells in the area with contamination greater than state standards but below 70 ppt, which the Air Force will not process.
“That the DoD can choose the rules it follows, in matters of public health, is not acceptable,” Amico said, adding that it “erodes trust.”
“When they don’t completely clean up the contamination or fully address the affected communities, it erodes trust and undermines their mission to protect this country,” she said.
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