WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and others to send a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, requesting the agencies release communications with the White House, and each other, regarding the establishment of federal drinking water standards for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and groundwater pollution guidelines related to these chemicals. The Senators’ letter comes in response to recent media reports that the Department of Defense (DOD) is requesting the White House adopt substantially weaker guidelines for groundwater pollution caused by PFAS than those suggested by the EPA. 

“If this reporting is accurate, the DOD’s actions may endanger the health of servicemembers and families who live and work near the 401 military installations where there are known or suspected releases of PFAS chemicals in the drinking water or groundwater. We urge you to act in the best interests of impacted communities and support efforts to develop groundwater and drinking water standards that will protect the public from the health hazards associated with PFAS contamination,” the Senators wrote. 

In August, Brown helped secure $335.8 million for Air Force bases like Wright-Patt to continue efforts to clean up toxic chemicals, such as PFAS and keep them from getting into the local water supply.  

“As you are aware, PFAS materials are a byproduct of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant agent used at military installations, and have been associated with a variety of adverse human health effects, including birth defects and immune system dysfunction. Given the significant public health concerns related to these chemicals, immediate action must be taken to reduce exposure to PFAS and address any potential negative health effects contamination from these materials may have on our communities,” the Senators continued. 

The Senators go on to highlight the EPA’s recently released PFAS management plan, which commits the agency to developing interim groundwater cleanup recommendations that will assist state and federal agencies in protecting drinking water supplies contaminated by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two PFAS chemicals contained in formulations of AFFF. This commitment is contradicted by media reports that suggest the DOD opposes groundwater cleanup guidelines recommended by the EPA, and instead suggest that remedial action for PFOA and PFOS not occur unless the concentration levels of these chemicals exceed 400 parts per trillion or higher – nearly six times higher than the EPA’s lifetime health advisory for these chemicals. 

The Senators underscore the significant risk to impacted communities posed by these extreme contamination levels and the limited number of sites eligible for cleanup and remediation. They close their letter by requesting that the DOD and EPA provide communication between the agencies and White House on efforts to set enforceable drinking water standards and groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFAS chemicals, and that they provide a joint briefing to their offices on interagency efforts on this issue. 

Their letter can be read in full here. It was also signed by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bob Casey (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Gary Peters (D-MI). 

Earlier this month, Brown joined bipartisan legislation that requires the EPA to declare PFAS as hazardous substances under the EPA Superfund law. The designation would allow federal funds to be used to clean up groundwater contamination due to PFAS spills and mandate responsible parties report spills of PFAS and be held liable for cleanup. 

Last month, Brown blasted EPA officials for releasing a PFAS Action Plan that fails to include an enforceable drinking water standard for PFOS/PFOA chemicals that have been detected in the drinking water of millions of Americans.  Brown also joined a bipartisan letter calling on EPA to set federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.   

Last June, Brown joined Sen. Portman (R-OH) and others in demanding the release of a draft federal study regarding the levels of PFOS/PFOA chemicals that are safe for exposure. According to news reports, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been blocking the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from releasing the study.