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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined 16 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler requesting the agencies release communications 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 to 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,” the senators wrote. “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.”

PFAS are chemicals found in firefighting foams that have been used at military installations and civilian airports. The chemicals have been detected in groundwater and drinking water wells near these facilities. While the health effects of these chemicals are still being determined, studies have linked PFAS exposure to developmental damage, certain cancers, and immune system dysfunction.

The Department of Defense has identified over 400 installations with a known or suspected release of PFAS that require additional investigation. Three Washington state military facilities – Fairchild Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and Joint Base Lewis-McCord – have detected elevated PFAS levels in groundwater wells used for drinking water.

“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,” the senators continued. “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.”

Senators Murray and Cantwell have led efforts in Congress to address water contamination due to PFAS. In 2017, the two senators urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to support programs to investigate and clean up chemicals that have contaminated drinking water sources across the nation. They have also called for the inclusion of firefighters in studies on the health effects of occupational exposure to PFAS and helped secure resources to clean up contamination caused by the chemicals.

In addition to Murray and Cantwell, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), 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), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

The full text of the letter can be found HERE.