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Official Addresses DOD Efforts to Clean Up PFAS

March 25, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Officials with the Defense Department and others testified yesterday about efforts to mitigate and clean up PFAS, a group of chemicals that can be harmful to human health.

PFOS, which is perfluorooctane sulfonate, and PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, are two chemicals in the larger PFAS class. The chemicals are used in a firefighting foam that is known as aqueous film-forming foam. 

The foam is used by DOD and civilian firefighting organizations and other industries to rapidly extinguish fuel fires and protect against catastrophic loss of life and property. The foam is also present in other items, such as furniture and carpet.

A chemist pours foam on a small fire as another chemist holds a stopwatch.
Expert Experiment
Naval Research Lab Chemical Engineer Gopal Ananth and Research Chemist Spencer Giles 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-KT024-0094C

Paul D. Cramer, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for sustainment (Installations), provided testimony at a virtual hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.

DOD has a long track record of responsibly addressing issues by following the science and the direction of Congress, he said. This record includes many accomplishments and strong interagency collaboration, such as with the Environmental Protection Agency. 

"This does not mean that there's not room for improvement, specifically in the areas of increased transparency regarding the progress of our work," he said.

Cramer thanked Congress for providing the resources needed to protect the health and safety of service members, their families, and the communities surrounding military installations.

"We recognize that our accomplishments today are not sufficient alone to meet the challenges that we are, that we face, and accordingly, we are continuing our efforts of the DOD PFAS Task Force," he said.

The task force was established in July, 2019, to provide strategic leadership and direction to ensure a coordinated, aggressive and holistic approach on DOD-wide efforts to address PFAS.

"The task force continues to diligently address PFAS and is postured to be responsive to the direction of this administration," Cramer said.

A person wearing fire protection gear sprays foam on a fire in a 28-square-foot container.
Fire Starter
John Farley, director of fire test operations at the Naval Research Laboratory, reintroduces fire to a 28-square-foot container that was just sprayed with a fluorine-free foam to put out a gasoline fire. This portion of the test, referred to as a “burnback,” is designed to see if the foam will remain stable over the surface of the water and keep flames from reigniting. The test took place at the NRL, Oct. 25, 2019.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 191025-D-UB488-011A

Task force efforts are organized along three major lines of effort, he said: mitigate and eliminate the use of AFFF; clean up PFAS; and understand the impacts of PFAS on human health. 

"The department is committed to addressing its PFAS releases to the environment, abiding by federal cleanup law," he said.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, DOD has identified 108 installations that may have used or potentially released PFAS, and the department is conducting a PFAS assessment at these installations, he noted.

DOD's priority is to quickly address PFOS and PFOA in drinking water above the EPA lifetime health advisory levels of 70 parts per trillion, he said.

No one is currently drinking water on or off base with PFAS — including PFOS or PFOA — above those levels where DOD is the known source, he said.

DOD is also investing in research to develop technologies to quantify and clean up PFAS, Cramer said.

These efforts reinforce DOD's commitment to protect human health, he said. "Addressing the challenges of PFAS is a national issue that will require national solutions and interagency efforts."