The Defense Department will temporarily stop burning toxic “forever chemicals” until it formally issues a guidance for how to dispose of the substances, according to a new memo.

In the memo, dated last week, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment Paul Cramer said the military would issue a “temporary prohibition” on incineration of a class of chemicals known as PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“Because DoD has not yet finalized the guidance required … DoD must immediately discontinue contracting activities for the incineration of any PFAS material,” including firefighting foam, he wrote. 

PFAS refers to a class of chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancers and other illnesses. They have been used in a variety of household products such as waterproof apparel and nonstick pans and have also been used in military firefighting foam. 

The Air Force said in 2017 that burning these chemicals as a means for disposing of them could produce “environmentally unsatisfactory” byproducts, including those that may be toxic or contribute to climate change.l

PFAS are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they tend to linger both in the human body and the environment.

The new pause comes after the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 required the department to halt the incineration of PFAS chemicals until it implements guidance on destruction and disposal of the chemicals. 

The military has historically used PFAS in its firefighting foam, which has later leached into waterways and harmed some nearby communities. 

Tags Defense Department Forever chemicals pentagon PFAS

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