U.S. navy says nationwide safety is dependent upon PFAS ‘without end chemical substances’

The Division of Protection depends on lots of, if not 1000’s, of weapons and merchandise resembling uniforms, batteries, and microelectronics that comprise PFAS, a household of chemical substances linked to severe well being circumstances.

Now, as regulators suggest restrictions on their use or manufacturing, Pentagon officers have advised Congress that eliminating the chemical substances would undermine navy readiness.

PFAS, referred to as “without end chemical substances” as a result of they don’t break down within the setting and might construct up within the human physique, have been related to such well being issues as most cancers. In July, a brand new federal examine confirmed a direct hyperlink between testicular most cancers and PFOS, a PFAS chemical that has been discovered within the blood of 1000’s of navy personnel.

Congress has pressured the Protection Division to scrub up U.S. navy websites and take well being issues extra significantly. Beneath the fiscal 2023 James M. Inhofe Nationwide Protection Authorization Act, the Pentagon was required to evaluate the ubiquity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in merchandise and tools utilized by the navy.

In a report delivered to Congress in August, Protection Division officers pushed again in opposition to well being issues raised by environmental teams and regulators. “DoD is reliant on the critically necessary chemical and bodily properties of PFAS to offer required efficiency for the applied sciences and consumable objects and articles which allow navy readiness and sustainment,” the authors mentioned.

Additional, they wrote: “Dropping entry to PFAS because of overly broad rules or extreme market contractions would drastically affect nationwide safety and DoD’s capacity to satisfy its mission.”

In line with the report, most main weapons methods, their parts, microelectronic chips, lithium-ion batteries, and different merchandise comprise PFAS chemical substances. These embody helicopters, airplanes, submarines, missiles, torpedoes, tanks, and assault autos; munitions; semiconductors and microelectronics; and metalworking, cooling, and fireplace suppression methods — the latter particularly aboard Navy ships.

PFAS are additionally current in textiles resembling uniforms, footwear, tents, and duffel luggage, for which the chemical substances assist repel water and oil and enhance sturdiness, in addition to nuclear, chemical, and organic warfare protecting gear, the report says.

The Pentagon’s report back to Congress was launched final month by the American Chemistry Council.

Defending a practice of protection

Army officers’ protection of PFAS use comes as issues mount over the well being dangers related to the chemical substances. Past most cancers, some sorts of PFAS have been linked to low start weight, developmental delays in youngsters, thyroid dysfunction, and lowered response to immunizations. Well being issues grew with the discharge of the examine definitively linking testicular most cancers in navy firefighters to a foam retardant containing PFAS.

However that wasn’t the primary time U.S. navy officers had been warned concerning the potential well being risk. Within the Seventies, Air Pressure researchers discovered that firefighting foam containing PFAS was toxic to fish and, by the Nineteen Eighties, to mice.

In 1991, the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers advised Fort Carson, Colorado, to cease utilizing firefighting retardants containing PFAS as a result of they had been “thought of hazardous materials in quite a few states.”

The Environmental Safety Company has struggled to find out whether or not there are acceptable ranges of PFAS in consuming water provides, given the existence of lots of of sorts of those chemical substances. However in March, the EPA did suggest federal limits on the degrees of PFAS in consuming water provides.

The regulation would dramatically scale back limits on six sorts of the chemical substances, with caps on the most typical compounds, referred to as PFOA and PFOS, at 4 components per trillion. At present, the Protection Division’s threshold for consuming water is 70 components per trillion primarily based on a 2016 EPA advisory. As a part of a widespread testing program, if ranges are discovered on installations or in communities above that quantity, the navy furnishes different consuming water provides.

The Protection Division has used PFAS-laced firefighting foam together with different merchandise containing the chemical substances for greater than a half-century, resulting in the contamination of a minimum of 359 navy websites or close by communities, with an extra 248 beneath investigation, in line with the division.

In its report, nevertheless, the Division of Protection didn’t tackle the well being issues and famous that there’s “no consensus definition of PFAS as a chemical class.” Additional, it mentioned that the broad time period, which addresses 1000’s of synthetic chemical chains, “doesn’t inform whether or not a compound is dangerous or not.”

Researchers with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that focuses on PFAS contamination nationwide, mentioned the report lacked acknowledgment of the well being dangers or issues posed by PFAS and ignored the supply of PFAS-free replacements for materials, tents, and duffel luggage.

The navy report additionally didn’t tackle potential options or analysis on non-PFAS options or tackle alternative prices, famous EWG’s Jared Hayes, a senior coverage analyst, and David Andrews, a senior scientist.

“It’s form of like that report you flip in at college,” Andrews mentioned, “whenever you get a remark again that you simply did the minimal quantity potential.”

Andrews added that the report fell brief in effort and scope.

The Protection Division introduced this 12 months it could cease shopping for firefighting foam containing PFAS by 12 months’s finish and part it out altogether in 2024. It stopped utilizing the froth for coaching in 2020, by order of Congress.

The report famous, nevertheless, that whereas new Navy ships are being designed with different fireplace suppression methods resembling water mists, “restricted use of [PFAS-containing systems] stays for these areas the place the options will not be applicable,” resembling current ships the place there isn’t a different foam that may very well be swapped into present methods.

In line with the report, “the security and survivability of naval ships and crew” from fires on ships is dependent upon present PFAS-based firefighting foams and their use will proceed till a succesful different is discovered.

Pervasive but elusive

Commercially, PFAS chemical substances are utilized in meals packaging, nonstick cookware, stain repellents, cosmetics, and different client merchandise.

The fiscal 2023 Nationwide Protection Authorization Act additionally required the Protection Division to establish client merchandise containing PFAS and cease buying them, together with nonstick cookware and utensils in eating services and ship galleys in addition to stain-repellent upholstered furnishings, carpeting, and rugs.

However in a briefing to Congress in August accompanying the report on important makes use of, Pentagon officers mentioned they couldn’t adjust to the regulation’s deadline of April 1, 2023, as a result of producers don’t normally disclose the degrees of PFAS of their merchandise and no federal legal guidelines require them to take action.

Come Jan. 1, nevertheless, makers of those chemical substances and merchandise containing them can be required to establish these chemical substances and notify “downstream” producers of different merchandise of the degrees of PFAS contained in such merchandise and components, even in low concentrations, in line with a federal rule revealed Oct. 31 by the EPA.

This would come with home items like shampoo, dental floss, and meals containers.

Officers reiterated that the Protection Division is dedicated to phasing out nonessential and noncritical merchandise containing PFAS, together with these named above in addition to meals packaging and private protecting firefighting tools.

And it’s “creating an method” to take away objects containing PFAS from navy shops, referred to as exchanges, additionally required by the fiscal 2023 NDAA.

Threat-benefit assessments

When it comes to “mission vital PFAS makes use of,” nevertheless, the Pentagon mentioned the chemical substances present “important advantages to the framework of U.S. vital infrastructure and nationwide and financial safety.”

Andrews of EWG famous that the trade is stepping up manufacturing of the chemical substances because of market demand and added that the federal authorities has not proposed banning PFAS chemical substances, because the Protection Division alluded to when it emphasised the vital position these substances play in nationwide safety and warned in opposition to “overly broad rules.”

“The statements are fully unsubstantiated, and it’s nearly a fear-mongering assertion,” Andrews mentioned. “I feel the assertion is actually going past something that’s even being thought of within the regulatory house.”

“There haven’t been sensible proposals policy-wise of an entire ban on PFAS,” his colleague Hayes added. “What folks have been pushing for and speaking about are sure classes of merchandise the place there are viable options, the place there’s a PFAS-free choice. However to ban it outright? I haven’t actually seen that as a practical coverage proposal.”

Kevin Fay, govt director of the Sustainable PFAS Motion Community, a coalition of firms, trade advocates, and researchers who help the use and administration of PFAS compounds, mentioned the Protection Division has a degree and it’s as much as federal regulators to “responsibly handle” these chemical substances and their use to strike a stability amongst environmental, well being, and industrial wants.

“The U.S. Division of Protection’s report on vital PFAS makes use of is crystal clear: regulating PFAS by a one-size matches all method will gravely hurt nationwide safety and financial competitiveness,” Fay wrote in an e-mail to KFF Well being Information.

Including that not all PFAS compounds are the identical and arguing that not all are dangerous to human well being, Fay mentioned risk-based categorization and management is important to the continued use of the chemical substances.

However, he added, in areas the place the chemical substances pose a threat to human well being, the federal government ought to act.

“The federal authorities ought to implement plans to establish and remediate contaminated websites, correctly establish threat profiles of the numerous sorts of PFAS compounds, and encourage innovation by clearing the regulatory path for viable options to particular harmful compounds,” Fay wrote.

Assessments are accomplished or underway at 714 energetic and former navy installations, Nationwide Guard services, and different former protection websites to find out the extent of contamination in groundwater, soil, and the water provide to those areas and close by communities.

Final 12 months, the Pentagon issued a brief moratorium on burning supplies containing PFAS. Research have proven that the apply can launch poisonous gases. However on July 11, the Protection Division lifted the moratorium on incineration, together with interim steerage on PFAS disposal.

Army personnel who had been uncovered to PFAS — together with by firefighting foam — say they dwell in concern that they or their relations will develop most cancers on account of their service.

“I’ve bought extra of a few of these supplies in my system than 90-plus % of these on the planet. That is dangerous. It doesn’t go away,” mentioned Christian Jacobs, who served within the Military for 4 years and labored as a civilian Protection Division firefighter for almost three many years. “It retains me up at evening.”

KFF Well being Information visible reporter Hannah Norman contributed to this report.