Analysis: DoD's PFAS Spending Not Enough to Fix Escalating Backlog
Monday, May 22, 2023
New Mexico has eight military sites with known or suspected discharges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals," and a new analysis found the Defense Department's budget for the cleanup job is falling behind.
The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group said costs for cleaning up PFAS are soaring, but the Pentagon is spending less and less to address the problem.
John Reeder, vice president of federal affairs for the nonprofit, said cleanup costs on active and former military bases, as well as in local communities, could exceed $31 billion, but funding does not appear to be a priority for the Defense Department.
"The Department of Defense has grown by about 100% over the last few decades, more than doubling its entire overall budget, but the cleanup program has actually gone down over the last 30 years."
Since the estimated cost was released in 2021, the Pentagon's budget request has been about $1 billion each year. Military bases are not the only locations where PFAS contamination is an issue. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the federal government needs to devise safe standards for PFAS chemicals in soil and in food produced on farms.
Reeder emphasized the slower the federal response, the more expensive the problem becomes.
"PFAS spreads, and so you have a larger area that might become contaminated," Reeder explained. "Time is definitely not on our side in terms of this problem. It needs to be dealt with urgently, or the costs will be much more in the future."
Jared Hayes, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group, said tens of thousands of people probably do not know their level of exposure to PFAS, which has been linked to cancer.
"Many people might not know that they were exposed during their service or while they lived on bases," Hayes pointed out. "And these include families; families with children who lived on bases."
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to establish legally enforceable levels for six different PFAS compounds known to occur in drinking water.
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