Audit: Military personnel are not protected against toxic chemicals | Health Info


By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer

The Defense Department has dragged its feet to protect military personnel from “eternal chemicals” at military installations and is not doing enough to track the health effects of exposure to toxic compounds, according to an internal audit.

The authorities have taken measures to find and clean the groundwater contaminated with fire-fighting foam containing PFAS or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, noted the inspector general of the department. But its recently released report says the Pentagon has failed to address other sources of the chemicals as its rules require.

He also found that despite plans to test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS this year, as required by Congress, officials have no plan to track and analyze the results department-wide. .

The department “misses an opportunity to capture comprehensive data on PFAS exposure for DoD firefighters to use for risk management, including future studies to assess the significant long-term health effects associated with PFAS” , according to the audit, dated July 22.

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The report included responses from two deputy defense secretaries who largely agreed with the findings and promised to respond to them. The inspector general said the case will remain open until his recommendations are implemented.

“This Inspector General’s report confirms the Defense Department must do more urgently to protect military personnel and their families from PFAS chemicals,” Representative Dan Kildee, Democrat of Michigan and task force co-chair, said Tuesday. of Congress on PFAS.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately comment.

PFAS refers to thousands of man-made compounds used in countless products, including non-stick cookware, water-repellent sports equipment, grease-resistant cosmetics and food packaging, and fire-fighting foams.

Public health studies of exposed populations have linked the chemicals to a range of health problems, including some cancers, weakened immunity and low birth weight. Large-scale tests in recent years have revealed high levels of PFAS in many public water systems. They are called “chemicals forever” because they do not degrade in the environment.

PFAS substances have been found in groundwater on or near more than 300 military bases, according to the nonprofit Environmental Task Force.

Military crews began using foam containing PFAS to extinguish petroleum-related fires in the 1970s, according to the audit. The Pentagon was informed in 2000 that major manufacturers were phasing out products, including foam, made with some of the chemicals after one was found to be toxic and accumulated in the blood over time. .

Still, the ministry waited until 2011 to issue an alert and took an additional five years to list risk management actions such as preventing uncontrolled release of foam during training and removal when possible, according to the audit.

“Some of the highest detections in the world have been found in the groundwater” of military installations, said Scott Faber, senior vice chairman of the environmental working group for government affairs. This means that staff “have been drinking extremely polluted water for much longer than they should have been, in violation of the ministry’s own policies.”

In recent years, the Pentagon has tested wells and groundwater in bases for two widely used PFAS chemicals and has started removing foam containing one of them from its stockpiles, the audit said.

But other than fire-fighting foam, the department has not addressed potential pollution from other materials containing PFAS as its rules require, according to the report.

“As a result, people and the environment may continue to be exposed to avoidable risks,” he said.

In comments attached to the report, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary for Sustainment Paul Cramer said risk management options for materials containing PFAS other than foam would be developed by the start. from 2022.

Responding to the audit’s call for tracking and analyzing blood test results to monitor long-term health effects, Acting Assistant Defense Secretary for Readiness Thomas Constable said the data would be shared with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to help a study on cancer in firefighters.

In addition, the department will analyze the results of the PFAS serum lab at the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center and develop exposure limits, which will take more than four years, he said.

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