PFAS or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances are usually found in consumer and industrial goods such as furniture, pesticides and food-packaging. (Photo by the New York State Department of Health)

By Eve Sampson,
Capital News Service

Maryland Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, have joined a host of other lawmakers in an open letter to the Pentagon to increase resources for cleaning up toxic chemicals found on military bases. The issue, known as PFAS, which stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of “forever chemicals” that come from consumer and industrial goods, can cause a variety of diseases in humans. 

The letter, signed by over three dozen senators from both parties, said PFAS found in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant used by the military, personal protective equipment used by firefighters and other products, left those who served at military installations at a higher risk of health problems. 

“Nearly 700 military installations nationwide have known or suspected PFAS contamination, exposing service members and their families, and civilian communities near DoD installations to these toxic chemicals,” the senators wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presented evidence that PFAS exposure was associated with lower antibody responses, elevated cholesterol, decreased infant and fetal growth and  increased risk of kidney cancer in adults. 

According to the report, those who have worked or resided at places with identified PFAS contamination should have regular blood testing. The report specifically mentions military bases as locations where PFAS have been identified. 

In 2022, Congress allocated $517 million for military PFAS-related testing,  research and cleanup. The senators said the Department of Defense has not done enough.

“It is our understanding that one of the major obstacles in the way of Congress putting more resources toward this problem is a lack of planning by the Department on how to execute a higher funding level,” the senators said. “Simply put, DoD is not sufficiently prioritizing PFAS testing, remediation and disposal as part of its annual budget process, nor is the Department adequately developing the appropriate plans to utilize even higher funding levels as provided by Congress.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense declined a request for comment and said the Department will respond to Congress accordingly. 

Jared Hayes, a PFAS-focused policy analyst with nonprofit activist organization Environmental Working Group, said there are almost 400 DoD bases with confirmed PFAS contamination in either drinking water and/or groundwater. At least 300 additional bases have suspected contamination. 

According to Hayes, some of the highest levels of PFAS contamination in Maryland have been found at Naval Research Lab, Ft. Meade and Webster Field Naval Annex. He said PFAS found at bases such as these contribute to the contamination of local fish and shellfish.

Hayes said,  “while there may be bases around the U.S. with higher levels of contamination, the high levels of PFAS and the concentration of so many DOD bases along such an important waterway as the Chesapeake Bay, makes Maryland bases stand out in the U.S.”

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