The Senate wrangled on Wednesday over which amendments to debate in its annual defense bill even as a House committee moved to strengthen its version to address exposure to PFAS, the so-called “forever” chemicals used in consumer products and firefighting foam.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has tried to make quick work this week of the $740.5 billion fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 4049), which includes modest provisions on PFAS. The must-pass measure has become a battleground over efforts to strengthen regulation of PFAS and help communities fighting contamination of their drinking water.
The House is moving more far-reaching PFAS provisions in its $732 billion fiscal 2021 defense bill (H.R. 6395). Any differences between that bill and the Senate version will have to be reconciled before the measure can be signed by the president.
The House Armed Services Committee Wednesday voted to strengthen the bill’s PFAS provisions as part of a broader “en bloc” package of amendments adopted by voice vote. They included an amendment by Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) to ensure periodic health testing of military members includes testing for PFAS exposure during health exams. The Defense Department also would have to include an assessment of whether service members undergoing the exams were stationed at a base “known or suspected” for PFAS exposure or contamination.
The panel also agreed to a separate amendment by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) directing the Defense Department to raise its $10 million contribution to a PFAS study underway at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to $15 million in fiscal 2021.
Other PFAS Provisions
Those amendments strengthened PFAS provisions already in the bill the House Armed Services panel took up Wednesday, including provisions to authorize $150 million for research to support development of PFAS remediation and disposal technologies for military installations.
The House bill also would provide $1.5 billion for environmental remediation and cleanup of current military installations and former defense sites, including so-called BRAC sites closed in a consolidation of bases under the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of thousands of man-made chemicals used in nonstick and waterproof consumer goods and firefighting foam used in defense installations and on military ships. PFAS chemicals may cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Progress has been slow on the Senate defense bill, with its relatively modest PFAS provisions. Several procedural votes on the floor have been held, beginning Friday, as Republicans and Democrats debate which of the 600-plus amendments submitted will get votes. Among the amendments Democrats want are PFAS proposals by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
Shaheen has pushed to raise funding from $10 million to $15 million for the PFAS human health study as well as a measure to provide PFAS blood testing for service members and their families during annual checkups. She also backs a measure to designate certain PFAS chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA as hazardous for the Defense Department, which would allow communities to recover cleanup costs from the department.