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Angus King joins senators calling on Pentagon to show more 'urgency' on PFAS

Congress Electoral Votes
Mariam Zuhaib
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks during a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing to examine the Electoral Count Act, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at the Capitol Hill in Washington.

Maine independent Sen. Angus King is part of a group of U.S. senators urging the Department of Defense to put a higher priority on addressing PFAS pollution on military bases.

According to the senators, Congress has provided an additional $1 billion to the Defense Department in recent years to deal with sites contaminated with the class of so-called “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. But in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, King and about three dozen other senators expressed concerns that the Pentagon doesn't have plans in place to fully utilize that money or any additional funds that Congress might devote to the growing PFAS problem.

“It is our understanding that one of the major obstacles in the way of Congress putting more resources toward this problem is a lack of planning by the department on how to execute a higher funding level,” the senators wrote. “Simply put, DoD is not sufficiently prioritizing PFAS testing, remediation and disposal as part of its annual budget process, nor is the department adequately developing the appropriate plans to utilize even higher funding levels as provided by Congress. DoD has a responsibility to place greater emphasis on addressing these pollutants impacting service members, military families and defense communities.”

Short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS are a class of chemical that have been used for decades in consumer products, such as nonstick cookware and stain or water-repellent fabrics, as well as in the highly effective firefighting foams used at airports. But some varieties of PFAS have been linked to a host of health problems, including kidney cancer, high cholesterol, low birth weight and disruptions of the endocrine system in children.

PFAS hotspots have been documented at hundreds of military sites around the country. In Maine, those military sites include the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone and the current Air National Guard facility in Bangor, while the former Pease Air Force Base in neighboring New Hampshire is also grappling with PFAS pollution. The state of Maine, meanwhile, is investigating hundreds of nonmilitary sites around the state because municipal sludge or industrial materials that potentially contained higher levels of PFAS were spread on nearby farm fields.

The senators urged Austin and the Defense Department “to match Congress’ urgency for addressing testing and remediation” for PFAS and to provide Congress with a plan for utilizing additional PFAS related money.