December 6, 2022
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the National PFAS Contamination Coalition, Sierra Club, Center for Health Environment and Justice, and more than 60 other organizations sent a letter to the Biden Administration calling for the safe and expeditious clean up of PFAS-contaminated federal sites. PFAS, or Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, are synthetic chemicals that are widely used in consumer products and at military and industrial sites. These “forever chemicals” never break down in the environment, and exposure is linked to a variety of health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, damaged immune systems, and harm to the liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function.
Despite a pledge to use “every tool in the toolbox to contain the PFAS crisis,” PFAS are still required in fire fighting foam on military bases and at large airports. There has been very little clean up of PFAS-contaminated soils and groundwater at these sites. As communities wait for relief, PFAS pollution continues to spread via historically contaminated soil and groundwater which wash PFAS into surface, ground, and stormwater runoff. Meanwhile the Department of Defense (DOD) is challenging efforts by states including Michigan and New Mexico to force a cleanup of PFAS contamination from military bases.
Advocates are particularly concerned by recent DOD statements that long-overdue PFAS cleanups will be further slowed if it is not allowed to incinerate waste PFAS foams, soils, filters, and other contaminated materials. We call on the Biden Administration to expedite clean up without compromising the safety of people living near hazardous waste landfills, incinerators, and other kilns that have historically burned PFAS waste.
In response, community leaders issued the following statements:
“While we are working to clean up and repair the damage of years of pollution and neglect it is imperative that we do so in ways that are just and cause no further harm to those most impacted by historical neglect,” said Reverend Mike Atty of the United Congregations of the Metro East. “While we’ve banned the incineration of PFAS waste in Illinois, we do not want that burden shifted to other incinerator communities. We should treat those communities as if it is our own backyards.”
“I am calling on the aerospace industry and the Department of Defense to take action on cleaning up PFAS without sacrificing the health of those who live and work in these areas,” said Stel Bailey of Fight For Zero. “Currently, military waste is destroyed in an open burn and open detonation unit (OBOD) in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that exposes our communities to harmful contamination. I urge you to protect the environment and human health by implementing safer alternatives for disposal of military waste.”
“Unfortunately we currently don’t have a safe and effective way to destroy PFAS chemicals,” said Andrea Amico of Testing for Pease. “Incinerating PFAS or sending PFAS waste to landfills does not solve the problem. It just moves the pollution from one community to another. My community of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (home to the former Pease Air Force Base), is fortunate to have clean up efforts and filtration of drinking water and groundwater to address PFAS contamination paid for by the US Air Force, but I worry about the communities receiving our waste and what impacts these forever chemicals will now have on them.”
“The historic and on-going use of PFAS-based fire fighting foams at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport threaten ground water supplies for our city,” said Linda Shosie of the Environmental Justice Task Force – Tucson. “Ineffective disposal practices like deep well injection can allow PFAS to enter the groundwater and move back to the water cycle and eventually enter our bodies. Many people in my community have already developed cancer and other serious irreversible illnesses associated with PFAS. We need to find equitable and effective solutions.”
“PFAS incineration only transfers the problem from the incinerator to the surrounding community,” said Jose Aguayo of the Center for Health, Environment, & Justice. “These communities are already suffering from many other forms of contamination so we cannot just add more simply because the DoD is feeling lazy. We need to take the time and money to treat the waste properly.”
Cindy Carr, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dana Colihan, National PFAS Contamination Coalition, email@example.com