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Environmental group says U.S. Dept. of Defense spending far too little on PFAS cleanup

U.S. Air Force

The Environmental Working Group says the Department of Defense is spending a fraction of what it should on PFAS cleanup on military and former military bases, and its cleanup budget is falling behind.

EWD says the estimated total for cleaning up DOD sites has soared to $31 billion, up by $3.7 billion from 2016 to 2021, the last year the Pentagon provided estimates. Yet its cleanup budget increased just $400 million over the same period.

The gap in funding, says EWG, means some sites might not get their PFAS contamination cleaned up for more than half a century.

And the group notes, the longer the DOD delays, the more expensive the cleanups become, as PFAS plumes spread further into the groundwater, and as new sites are identified and added to the backlog.

“The DOD is facing a ticking cleanup time bomb as funding falls dramatically behind cleanup costs,” said Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst at EWG. “The DOD has an obligation to its service members,the families living on bases, and the surrounding communities that have already been contaminated, so they need to clean up their mess."

Michigan has ten military or former military sites with known PFAS contamination, and nine PFAS-contaminated sites with suspected military connections. Three of Michigan's military bases are on the EWG's list of the 100 U.S. military sites with the worst PFAS contamination.

The group's Melanie Benesh said PFAS is linked to a wide array of health problems, including some cancers and reproductive and immune system disorders. She said because firefighting foams - the main source of the PFAS - were used for decades, many people could have been exposed over time, and many are currently being exposed.

"People who served at that base were likely exposed at some point in their service to PFAS in the drinking water and then community members who are living nearby and who are being served by well water, their well water may still be contaminated," she said.

The EWG report says Congress may need to demand the Pentagon spend what's needed, since defense leaders have low-balled their budget requests to Congress year after year.

The Department of Defense had not responded to the report by the time of publication.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.