Read the full article by Joseph Flaherty (Northwest Arkansas)
“When the U.S. military recently sought to get rid of a stockpile of firefighting foam containing toxic ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS, a facility near Arkadelphia accepted large quantities of the chemical waste and incinerated it, despite concerns from environmental advocates about the safety of the process.
As national concern grows about the pernicious toxic compounds, an environmental-law nonprofit has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Defense with the aim of halting the foam incineration happening in states, including Arkansas, absent more environmental review.
The sprawling hazardous-waste facility is on 1,300 acres near the railroad tracks just outside Arkadelphia and borders the tiny Clark County town of Gum Springs. Inside are kilns and afterburners designed to dispose of toxic materials, according to the facility’s corporate owner. The French environmental services conglomerate Veolia recently acquired the facility from the aluminum company Alcoa in a deal Veolia announced in early January.
The facility is linked to a problem facing the Defense Department: How should it dispose of excess firefighting foam containing the toxic chemicals while at the same time addressing contamination of soil and drinking water caused by past releases of the chemicals from military sites?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a vast group of manmade chemicals that do not occur in nature, do not break down in the environment and build up in the human body. For decades, the chemicals have been used in nonstick cookware, food packaging and carpets or clothes that repel water, stains and grease.
Because of the strength of the carbon-fluorine bond, they have become known as ‘forever chemicals.’
As a result of their persistence and mobility, the chemicals can find their way into soil and water, raising the risk to entire communities. Nearly all Americans are believed to have some level of PFAS in their blood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and various studies have linked the chemicals to serious health problems in humans, including autoimmune diseases, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, endocrine disruption and cholesterol levels.
Two of the most widely studied and widespread chemicals in this category are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
In January 2016, the Defense Department implemented a policy requiring all military installations to prevent PFAS releases during training exercises using the foam, according to a Pentagon official’s testimony to a Senate committee last year. The Pentagon also ordered installations to dispose of millions of gallons of excess foam containing PFOA, where practical.
But the Defense Department’s strategy of incinerating the foam to get rid of the military’s unused stockpile has proved to be controversial.
Veolia executive Bob Cappadona acknowledged in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Arkadelphia has received PFAS-containing foam for incineration from contractors serving the Defense Department, but he could not give specific information about the volume of waste or a timeline, other than to say that firefighting foam has been incinerated at the plant within the past several months.
An incomplete Defense Department list obtained by the environmental-law nonprofit Earthjustice under the Freedom of Information Act and provided to the Democrat-Gazette indicates that the Arkadelphia facility has received more than 121,000 gallons of PFAS-related substances for incineration…”