News   Reform

DOD Officials Testify on Defense Environmental Restoration Program

June 3, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience, Richard Kidd, provided testimony on May 26 at a virtual House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on the defense environmental restoration program, also known as DERP.

For over thirty years, DOD has conducted cleanup for its current and former installations, following the existing federal cleanup law and long-standing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for all chemicals in the cleanup program.   "The department has been able to establish and maintain a mature, effective cleanup program," Kidd said.  

A man puts out a fire.
Lab Test
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-UB488-010C

While the hearing covered the entire DOD environmental cleanup program, many of the questions focused on PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. PFOS, which is perfluorooctane sulfonate, and PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, are two chemicals in the larger PFAS class. PFAS are found in many consumer products, as well as in a certain firefighting foam called aqueous film-forming foam. The foam is used by the Defense Department, civilian firefighting organizations and many industries to rapidly extinguish fuel fires and protect against catastrophic loss of life and property. 

As of March 31, the department had identified 698 installations where the Defense Department used or potentially released PFAS, Kidd said. "We have completed the preliminary assessment and site investigation on 129 of these installations. Of these, 63 were found to require no further action, while 66 are proceeding to the remedial investigation and feasibility study." Kidd added that he expects all of the preliminary assessments and site investigations on all installations to be completed by the first quarter of 2024.

A chemist in a lab begins filling a plastic container with foam.
Foam Test
Naval Research Lab Chemical Engineer Katherine Hinnant 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-KT024-0131C
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

"The department has also taken quick action to address PFAS chemicals in drinking water, both on and off base. We are confident that no one is drinking water with PFOS or PFOA above the EPA's lifetime health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, where the Department of Defense is the known source," he said.

Additionally, the department has a strong internal governance body in the form of the PFAS Task Force, and a record of serious engagement on this topic, Kidd added.

The Defense Department will also expand community outreach regarding its activities to address PFAS, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy resilience said.

"Frankly, the most important outreach occurs at the local level. But it's important that senior leaders demonstrate their commitment and lead by example. I will start this on July 14, representing the department at a public town hall [meeting]," Kidd said.

Kidd also shared his assessment of the challenge in PFAS cleanup.

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

"The rate of progress is defined primarily by the rules that govern our physical world. Physics, chemistry and science, establish the realm of the possible and dictate the parameters within which we work. Based on what we know today, and known technologies, frankly, it will be years before we fully define the scope of the problem. … And after that, probably decades before cleanup is complete," he said.

Kidd said that the remaining cleanup cost for all sites in the DERP, including those with PFAS, is about $29 billion, but that figure is likely to rise as additional PFAS investigations are completed and the scope of the problem is better understood.

Speaking about the department’s overall cleanup program, Kidd concluded, "The program is legally and technically complex, but its purpose is simple: to preserve the trust with the American people, and protect the environmental bounty of this great land for current and future generations. I'm committed to this effort."

Also testifying were Amy Borman, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for environment, safety and occupational health; Karnig Ohannessian, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for environment; and Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and infrastructure.