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Senators want chemical cleanup at military bases

Updated February 9, 2022 - 6:54 am

WASHINGTON — A growing concern about contamination from “forever chemicals” has prompted a bipartisan group of senators from Nevada and other states to urge President Joe Biden to make testing and cleanup a budget priority.

The senators, including Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Nevada Democrats, are asking the Biden administration to budget funds for increased testing, cleanup efforts and research on chemicals used by the military, airports and industrial plants that pose health risks.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used in foam to extinguish petroleum-based fires, has been detected at all Nevada military bases and in groundwater at both Creech and Nellis Air Force bases near Las Vegas.

Although testing has found no contamination in Nevada drinking water, other cities and states have found alarming rates of the substance in drinking water supplies and exposure to people living near military installations, aviation and industrial plants.

“PFAS chemicals have emerged as widespread contaminants affecting thousands of communities across the country, causing significant concern for those drinking contaminated water or facing significant exposures through their work or military service,” the senators wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to Biden.

The letter seeks funding for agencies and programs to close the gap on research on the toxic chemicals, enhance testing and cleanup of contamination.

The toxins are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down environmentally.

Biden is expected to deliver his budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts Oct. 1, after his State of the Union address to Congress in early March.

Money for cleanup

The Biden administration and congressional lawmakers included funding in the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to address cleanup to provide clean drinking water to communities.

The Pentagon has spent more than $1 billion and estimates it will cost an additional $2 billion, to identify and clean up chemical contamination from fire-suppressing foam used at military installations.

Groundwater contamination from the chemicals have been found at Creech and Nellis. Although there is no known drinking water contamination, Nevada leaders are concerned that chemical-tainted groundwater at Nellis could pollute water that people drink.

Last week, Rosen joined lawmakers from three other states in urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to improve communication with local groups and involve communities in long-term plans to address contamination.

Big bipartisan effort

In the letter to Biden, roughly three dozen senators also expressed concern for people exposed to the toxins while serving in the military or on bases and installations.

The firefighting foam has been used for years on military bases and at public and private airports and airstrips.

Pentagon officials testified before the Senate last year about efforts by all military service branches to address contamination that the Environmental Protection Agency has said is prevalent on hundreds of installations.

Testing and cleanup is ongoing at nearly 700 military and National Guard facilities and installations, according to the Department of Defense.

Groundwater contamination from the foam is at such dangerous levels at Nellis that the EPA has placed it on a Superfund site list.

The Air Force is taking aggressive actions at Nellis, monitoring groundwater samples a half-mile from the base, said Mark Kinkade, a spokesman for the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center at Joint Base San Antonio.

Kinkade said the Air Force is working with the community, Nevada regulators and agencies to identify the problem and develop long-term solutions at Creech and Nellis.

The senators, in their letter to Biden, said they want the administration to expand its strategy to include testing for contamination and mitigation efforts in agriculture, environment and wildlife and accelerate measures being undertaken by the military.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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