Read the full article Scott Faber and Jared Hayes (EWG)

“The Senate’s homeland security panel will hold a critical hearing this Thursday on a shocking inspector general report that found the Defense Department failed to protect service members and their families from the toxic ‘forever chemicals‘ known as PFAS.

Years of PFAS pollution from DOD bases have contaminated drinking water supplies for communities across the U.S., while the use of firefighting foam laced with the chemicals at bases created major health risks for service members. The Defense Department IG’s report, released in July, revealed some jaw-dropping details but left unanswered many questions about DOD’s knowledge and handling of PFAS.

Acting IG Sean O’Donnell is slated to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with other top DOD officials. The hearing gives senators a chance to quiz the officials on what the IG report found, ignored and obscured.

Key conclusions from the report include revelations that the DOD:

  • Waited until 2016 – five years after it issued a ‘risk alert’ – to begin to protect service members from PFAS
  • Failed to take an ‘enterprise-wide’ approach to protecting service members from all sources of PFAS, not just PFAS in firefighting foam, in violation of DOD policies
  • Failed to track the results of blood testing of military firefighters, violating DOD policies.

Equally troubling, but overlooked, are redactions in the report suggesting the DOD’s environmental leaders may have identified PFOA and PFOS, two of the most common PFAS, as ’emerging chemicals’ as early as 2006. Those officials even commissioned reports studying PFAS’ impacts on service members. The details of what the DOD found and did in response are blacked out in the IG’s report.

The report does include this bombshell: A 2008 DOD memo said further action to address PFAS in firefighting foam was not needed, because ‘industry is taking appropriate action’ – but foam makers were simply replacing one PFAS with another, equally dangerous one.

And the IG revealed that a critical decision by a senior governance council at the DOD to delay action on PFAS until 2016 likely exposed service members and their families to ‘preventable risks’ from firefighting foam made with PFAS. The council did not endorse a 2011 ‘risk alert’ about PFAS that could have led to swifter action to end the use of foam with PFAS.

Military firefighters and other service members were also not alerted to the risks of PFAS, the IG found. They continued to drink contaminated water, and firefighters continued to handle toxic firefighting foam, without appropriate safeguards. DOD officials only began to filter PFAS from the tap water served on bases in 2016.”…