Watchdog calls on Pentagon to detail 'forever chemicals' cleanup expenses

Watchdog calls on Pentagon to detail 'forever chemicals' cleanup expenses
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) called on the Department of Defense (DOD) this week to detail its cleanup expenses for “forever chemicals” from water supply sources near military bases.

In a report released Tuesday, the government watchdog said the Pentagon has not reported how much it would cost to address perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of chemicals found in firefighting foams used by the military.

The Pentagon has been working to address PFAS contamination in drinking water on its bases and has estimated that it would cost more than $2.1 billion beginning in fiscal 2021 to clean up.

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However, the GAO said the department “has not reported future PFAS cost estimates, or the scope and limitations of those estimates, in its annual environmental reports to Congress.”

“By reporting this information to Congress, DOD would ensure that Congress has increased visibility into the significant costs and efforts associated with PFAS investigation and cleanup at or near military installations,” the report said.

As of fiscal 2020, 687 military installations with a known or suspected release of PFAS have been identified, the GAO said. These include 328 Army installations, 149 from the Navy, 203 from the Air Force and seven Defense Logistics Agency installations.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is evidence that PFAS exposure can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans.

Among the actions DOD has taken to a dress PFAS contamination are providing bottled water, installing water treatment systems and connecting homes with private wells to municipal water. 

The Pentagon is in the early stages of PFAS investigation. So far, it has identified six possible PFAS-free firefighting foams and has to ensure that an alternative is available for use by October 2023.

But the GAO said the Pentagon did not report estimated costs for future PFAS cleanups or that it “expects future PFAS costs to increase significantly as it proceeds through the environmental restoration process.”

“GAO recommends that DOD annually include cost estimates for future PFAS investigation and cleanup—including their scope and any limitations—in the environmental report to Congress. DOD concurred with the recommendation,” the watchdog wrote.