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DOD Releases PFAS Task Force Progress Report

March 13, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

A Defense Department task force released a progress report today on its efforts to address PFAS. The report summarizes the task force's accomplishments since its establishment in July and its planned activities moving forward. 

A chemist holds a stopwatch as he times an experiment of a small fire in a lab.
Timed Test
Naval Research Lab Research Chemist Spencer Giles prepares to test an experimental aqueous film-forming foam at the NRL in Washington, Sept. 23, 2019. NRL scientists are conducting research to support the Defense Department’s effort to replace firefighting foams containing fluorine.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Najera, DOD
VIRIN: 190923-D-KT024-0078C

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper created the PFAS task force to ensure a coordinated, aggressive and holistic approach to departmentwide efforts to address these chemicals, a defense official said. The task force's priorities include: 

  • Ensuring consistent investigation and cleanup of past releases;
  • Researching a PFAS-free firefighting foam;
  • Providing information on health effects to DOD stakeholders; and
  • Coordinating DOD efforts with other federal agencies.

The report covers various DOD activities related to PFAS, including the department's actions to address PFAS in drinking water. The report says that where DOD is the known source of drinking water, no one on or off-base is drinking water above the Environmental Protection Agency's lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Where levels exceed EPA's HA, DOD has provided bottled water and filters and has taken other actions as appropriate.

Additional updates outlined in the report include:

  • No PFAS-free foam has met the strict safety standards DOD requires to rapidly extinguish fuel fires. DOD only uses AFFF to respond to emergency events and no longer uses it for land-based testing and training. To limit environmental effects, the department treats each use of AFFF as a spill response. DOD is investing $49 million through fiscal year 2025 in research, development, testing and evaluation to find an effective alternative.
  • The task force is focused on continuing to educate DOD health care providers and their patients, monitoring PFAS research, and preparing to offer annual testing of DOD firefighters' blood.
    Firefighter prepares to extinguish blaze
    Fire Extinguisher
    A firefighter with the Montana Army National Guard’s 1050th Firefighting Tactical Group checks with the rest of the firefighting crew to make sure the hose is ready before heading into a simulator designed for aircraft rescue and firefighting training at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wis., as a part of their annual training at exercise Northern Lightning, May 8, 2019.
    Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Britney Hiat
    VIRIN: 190508-Z-YV764-035
  • Each military service is collecting drinking water sampling results where DOD is the purveyor, and maintaining the data in a centralized database.
  • Each military service is reporting quarterly to the office of the secretary of defense on its progress in investigating and cleaning up PFAS.
  • Scientists are still studying the health effects of PFAS exposure. The department has provided $30 million, and will provide an additional $10 million this year, to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct exposure assessments in the communities around eight current and former military installations, as well as a multi-site health study.
    A chemist looks at a computer screen that shows data of an experiment she is conducting.
    Test and Research
    Naval Research Lab Chemical Engineer Katherine Hinnant tests an experimental aqueous film-forming foam at the NRL in Washington, Sept. 23, 2019. NRL scientists are conducting research to support the Defense Department’s effort to replace firefighting foams containing fluorine.
    Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Najera, DOD
    VIRIN: 190923-D-KT024-0170C
  • DOD is collaborating with other federal agencies — such as the EPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs — and is communicating its actions to address PFAS to Congress and the communities impacted by DOD activities.
  • The task force will explore potential options for addressing PFAS overseas. 
    A person douses a  fire.
    Fighting Flames
    Stan Karwoski, a senior fire test technician at the Naval Research Laboratory, tests the effectiveness of aqueous film-forming foam by spraying it on a gasoline fire in a 28- square foot container. The test took place at the laboratory in Chesapeake Beach, Md., Oct. 25, 2019.
    Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
    VIRIN: 191025-D-UB488-010

Concurrent with the release of the report, the department is releasing a consolidated inventory of 651 DOD and National Guard installations where the department is performing an assessment of PFAS use or potential release. While DOD's initial focus was on installations with potentially significant historic PFAS use, this is a more comprehensive inventory of installations, including smaller installations across the Army and Army National Guard.