October 18, 2022

Report details federal government’s progress in addressing PFAS contamination

Cannon AFB courtesy photo: VIRIN: 101010-F-YG475-003.JPG

PFAS chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016.

An environmental advocacy group says a year after President Joe Biden’s administration announced plans to tackle PFAS pollution, progress has been made but more actions are needed.

The Environmental Working Group tracks federal actions to protect communities from PFAS chemicals. Each year, it releases a “report card” looking at those actions. It released this year’s report card on Monday.

PFAS chemicals, also called forever chemicals because they degrade slowly in normal environmental conditions, lead to increased risks of certain cancers and have been linked to liver damage, decreased fertility and increased risks of asthma and thyroid disease.

There are thousands of types of PFAS substances. These chemicals have various applications and are found in cosmetics, non-stick cookware, carpets, food packaging and other everyday items. PFAS chemicals have also been used in hydraulic fracturing in the oil fields.

Related: Report documents PFAS use in fracking in New Mexico

As of June, there were more than 2,800 identified sites with PFAS contamination in the United States and two of its territories, according to EWG. That number is expected to grow as more data is gathered, including data from public drinking water systems.

In New Mexico, that includes the four military bases. The PFAS contamination at the military bases was caused by firefighting foam used in training exercises. This has contaminated aquifers and impacted farmers like Art Schaap, who owns Highland Dairy in Clovis. 

Related: Groundwater contamination devastates a New Mexico dairy – and threatens public health

The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to submit a report this fall outlining a schedule for cleaning up PFAS contamination at military bases.

“This schedule is eagerly anticipated by many communities that are suffering from PFAS contamination,” EWG Vice President of Federal Affairs John Reeder said during a press conference on Monday.

Reeder said the federal government has met many of its goals for the first year following the Biden administration’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap and more actions are coming.

These actions include finalizing a rule that requires drinking water systems to collect data on 29 PFAS chemicals as well as lithium, designating two types of PFAS as hazardous substances, releasing drinking water health advisories for two types of PFAS and updating the advisories for two other types, and requesting information from PFAS manufacturers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also collected fish tissues to analyze for different types of PFAS chemicals.

In August, federal agencies published a draft method of detecting 40 types of PFAS in the environment. This method should be finalized this fall.

The EWG is not the only agency tracking progress on the roadmap. The EPA will issue a report this winter detailing the efforts taken to meet the goals outlined in the roadmap.

Some of the areas that need more attention, according to EWG, include cosmetics and food packaging.