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DoD and Congressional Task Forces Aiming to Address PFAS

The Department of Defense (DoD) PFAS Task Force and Congressional PFAS Task Force are moving forward with efforts to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination across the country.

DoD PFAS Task Force: On July 23rd, the day that Defense Secretary Esper took office, he announced the establishment of the DoD PFAS Task Force. The purpose of the Task Force is to ensure a coordinated nationwide DoD approach to address these PFAS impacts in an aggressive and holistic way. DoD has found more than 400 military installations across the country that have been affected by releases of PFAS into the environment, primarily caused by the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). Secretary Esper has reduced the time from 180 to 90 days for the PFAS Task Force to provide him with an update, now due on October 21st. The Task Force has five key focus areas:

  1. Health aspects
  2. Clean up standards and performance
  3. Finding/funding an effective substitute firefighting foam without PFAS
  4. Science-supported standards for exposure and clean up
  5. Interagency coordination
  6. Public/Congress perceptions of DoD’s efforts

Related to these focus areas, DoD has been coordinating with EPA and other federal agencies, and working with states, affected military bases and communities to address PFAS in drinking water; conduct exposure assessments; support research on health effects and fluorine-free firefighting alternatives; and conduct investigations and cleanup efforts under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA – Superfund Program). It is also expected that DoD will have additional mandates from the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 (NDAA).

Congressional PFAS Task Force: The bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force was launched on January 23rd of this year and is now made up of 162 Members of Congress. The Task Force signed a letter on September 3rd supporting the NDAA provisions that have been passed by both the House (H.2500) and Senate (S.1790) to address PFAS contamination and cleanup. Some of the NDAA PFAS provisions include:

  • Phasing out military use of PFAS in firefighting foam and ending its use in training exercises
  • Requiring reporting of industrial discharges of PFAS
  • Providing guidance on the destruction and disposal of PFAS wastes
  • Accelerating PFAS cleanups at military facilities through cooperative agreements with states
  • Designating PFAS as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA
  • Requiring permits for PFAS discharges under the Clean Water Act
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office to examine DoD’s PFAS cleanup efforts
  • Requiring EPA to set drinking water standards for PFAS compounds within two years
  • Authorizing $100 million per year through FY 2024 for DWSRF grants to address PFAS contamination with not less than 25 percent going to disadvantaged communities and public water systems serving fewer than 25,000 persons.

While the House and Senate versions of the NDAA bills vary in some ways, it is expected that these PFAS provisions will remain in the final bill, likely to be signed by the end of September.