Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Hearing on the Impact of PFAS Exposure on Servicemembers

2020-03-11 13:30

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the impact of PFAS exposure on servicemembers:

Good afternoon. This afternoon we are taking a critical look at the impact of fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS, on our servicemembers.

This is an issue that directly affects our military readiness. Ensuring the health and wellbeing of our men and women in uniform, and their families, is vital to developing a strong fighting force that can face the world’s threats.

Unfortunately, just like we highlighted last week in our hearing on the failures of privatized housing, our servicemembers are facing threats of a more widespread and insidious nature. In this case, it’s the threat from dangerous, long-lasting chemicals that are far, far too present on and around our military bases.

For decades, PFAS chemicals were used in a variety of industrial and consumer applications, and notably on military bases, in firefighting foams. But knowing what we know now, it is long past time to move away from these products and on to newer, safer formulations that are just as effective. Shifting to the use of new and improved products is just one part of the challenge facing our military.

Another part is cleaning up the legacy contamination that already exists. And on top of that, being honest with servicemembers and their families about the scope of the problem and explaining the work being done to address it is critical.

I am proud that the appropriations bill we passed last year provided an additional $60 million for PFAS identification, mitigation and cleanup at closed military locations under our BRAC account. This subcommittee is committed to doing our part to invest in these critical cleanup efforts.

I was also pleased to vote for a House-passed bill, the PFAS Action Act of 2019, that would provide a comprehensive approach to regulating PFAS chemicals, cleaning up contamination, and protecting public health. It is deeply disappointing and irresponsible that the Senate hasn’t acted on this legislation, but I can assure you that we are not giving up on this issue or on the servicemembers who are affected by it.

As I said earlier, this is an issue that affects our military readiness, and it demands action. Today’s witnesses will help tell the story of PFAS at our military bases and the impact that it has had on those who serve.

Our first panel will feature Mr. Jim Holmes, a former Army and Air Force helicopter pilot who was stationed for years at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. Patrick Air Force Base, I want to mention, has had PFAS levels detected at 4,338,000 parts per trillion.

By way of comparison, the risk level found by CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is 11 parts per trillion for PFOA. For PFOS, it is 7 parts per trillion. Seven. That’s when you start seeing real health risks.

Patrick Air Force Base is emblematic of the massive problem we are facing on our military bases. Hearing from Mr. Holmes on his and his family’s experience will be eye-opening. But Patrick Air Force Base is certainly not alone. A GAO report found that as of August 2017, DOD has identified over 400 active or closed military installations with known or suspected releases of PFOS or PFOA. And other estimates have found that if you expand beyond just military sites, you’re looking at over one thousand sites throughout the country with PFAS contamination.

We are also joined by Mr. Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Environmental Working Group. The Environmental Working Group has done a tremendous amount of work in establishing the hazards of PFAS chemicals and has been leading the charge to fully clean up this contamination.

On our second panel, we will hear from Ms. Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Department of Defense. She will give us a chance to learn more about remediation efforts and other programs underway at DOD to address this pervasive challenge.

Thank you all for being here this morning, and we look forward to hearing your testimony.

116th Congress