Energy & Environment

Green groups raise alarms about alleged Pentagon incineration of ‘forever chemicals’

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The Pentagon is shown in this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo.

A group of environmental organizations is raising alarms about the Defense Department’s alleged incineration of PFAS chemicals, also called “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment and human body.

The green groups, which include the Sierra Club and legal group Earthjustice, argued in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that incineration is now in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and that the department “must immediately cease all PFAS incineration until it has come into compliance.”

The chemicals are used in a variety of products, including raincoats, cookware and firefighting foam. 

Lawmakers originally included broad provisions to deal with PFAS chemicals in an early version of the NDAA, many of which were cut. 

The law now requires, however, that incineration is conducted at a temperature range “adequate to break down PFAS chemicals while also ensuring the maximum degree of reduction in emission of PFAS,” among other stipulations. 

The letter argues that this and other requirements are being violated by the Department of Defense (DOD).

“The incineration of chemicals that are designed to not combust at facilities known to violate environmental laws places the public at risk,” it said. “Several of the signatories to this letter represent members who live and work in the communities surrounding the incinerators that DOD has chosen for the incineration of [PFAS-containing Aqueous Film Forming Foam.]”

DOD did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

Earthjustice lawyer Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz told The Hill in a phone interview that litigation is “one of the options” the groups would consider if the department doesn’t adequately address the matter. 

“If they continue to incinerate without establishing compliance with the NDAA, then they’ve got a huge problem,” Kalmuss-Katz said. 

PFAS has been an area of intense congressional scrutiny in recent weeks. In addition to the provisions in the NDAA, the House on Friday passed legislation to regulate the chemical.

That bill faces an uphill battle in the GOP-led Senate. The chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), has said it  has “no prospects.”

Tags John Barrasso Mark Esper PFAS
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