Air Force diverted $66 million for growing chemical cleanup costs

A new analysis from the Department of Defense shows the Air Force diverted more than $66 million to cover the cleanup costs of harmful “forever chemicals” that have leached into the water supply.

Those funds were originally intended to cover a number of other projects, including asbestos abatement, radiological cleanup, removing contaminated soil, repairing the protective covering for a landfill and several projects to monitor water for contaminants and pesticides.

The class of chemicals, commonly referred to as PFAS, have been widely used by emergency fire response teams at commercial airports, the Air Force and other services to combat petroleum-based fires. Often called “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment, the military has now identified more than 400 sites contaminated with PFAS. Cleaning it up is expected to cost the military $2 billion.

The analysis was provided at the request of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

“Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars — perhaps billions of dollars — in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities. Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination,” he said in a release.

In the DOD’s response, the agency said the Army and Navy “have been able to address these emerging requirements without diverting funds” not intended for PFAS cleanup.

Also Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee approved provisions in the defense policy bill that would force the agency to phase out the use of firefighting foams with PFAS. Several senators have also pushed for such a move.

Carper has also advocated for declaring PFAS a hazardous substance so that superfund money could be used to cover the costs of cleanup.

“We also need to understand that this problem is not just a money matter,” Carper wrote. “There are a number of ways that Congress must begin tackling this multifaceted problem.”

In late August 2018, Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico was informed that several groundwater monitoring sites near the south east corner of the base boundary registered levels of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) above the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory for drinking water, of 70 parts per trillion.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC), who leads the testing program, determined that per groundwater hydrology analysis, that an Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) was necessary to determine potential impacts to private drinking water wells off base. The sampling and testing is part of the Air Force’s proactive, service-wide investigation to assess potential risk to drinking water from PFOS / PFOA contamination. The ESI commenced in late August and is ongoing.

Through frequent dialogue with the Curry County Commission, Cannon leadership was informed of the concern in the local community. “Cannon’s relationships in this community are invaluable to us,” said Colonel Stewart Hammons, 27th Special Operations Wing, Commander. “Their enduring support enables us to do the extremely important operational mission we have in defending our nation’s freedom and supporting Special Operations Forces across the globe,” he elaborated. “When we realized we had an issue at Cannon, the first thing we did was reach out to our community partners.

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