- Congress has put pressure on the Defense Department to eliminate PFAS
- But the DoD argues that PFAS is essential to its kit, weapons and vehicles
- READ MORE: Minnesota poised to be first US state to ban ‘forever chemicals’
The Pentagon has warned that broad bans aimed at stripping out harmful chemicals from everyday items could threaten US national security.
Regulators across the country are proposing bans on PFAS chemicals – sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’ – that are found in thousands of products and have been linked to cancer and infertility.
The Department of Defense (DoD) depends on thousands of weapons and products like uniforms, batteries and microelectronics that contain PFAS, it said.
In a report quietly submitted to Congress in August, the DoD said: ‘Losing access to PFAS due to overly broad regulations or severe market contractions would greatly impact national security and DoD’s ability to fulfill its mission.’
PFAS chemicals are used in coatings for uniforms to make them water-repellent, in brake fluid for airplanes and helicopters, in wire and cable insulation in submarines, and in missiles to improve the performance and stability of explosives
The report added that the chemicals were ‘critically important’ for maintaining technology and items that ensure ‘military readiness and sustainment.’
Microelectronic chips, lithium-ion batteries, helicopters, torpedoes and tanks all contain PFAS chemicals, as well as shoes, tents and duffel bags.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, are man-made chemicals that are present in swathes of everyday items, as they make things nonstick, waterproof and oil-resistant.
They have been linked to several lasting health problems, including several types of cancer, as well as low birth weight, thyroid issues and developmental delays in children.
Military personnel may be at a higher risk since the DoD started using aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), which contains PFAS, to extinguish certain types of fires.
AFFF is a fire-stopping foam that is highly effective but is now known to be toxic in humans.
The release of these chemicals into the environment also led to PFAS-contaminated water around military bases.
Thousands of firefighters and military workers have sued manufacturing companies over fears they have been exposed to the dangerous forever chemicals after seeing above-average rates of cancer among their ranks.
PFAS chemicals are used in coatings for uniforms to make them water-repellent, in brake fluid for airplanes and helicopters, in wire and cable insulation in submarines, and in missiles to improve the performance and stability of explosives.
A government study published in July demonstrated a direct link between testicular cancer and PFOS, a type of PFAS chemical that has shown up in the blood of thousands of military personnel.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the first time proposed limits on the chemicals in drinking water.
And under the fiscal 2023 James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon was instructed to assess the pervasiveness of PFAS in military equipment.
The Defense Department said it would halt purchases of firefighting foam with PFAS by the end of the year and completely phase it out in 2025.
It had already stopped using the foam in training in 2020, as ordered by Congress.
The Defense Department said that while new Navy ships are being constructed using alternative fire-stopping mechanisms such as water mists, ‘limited use of [PFAS-containing systems] remains for those spaces where the alternatives are not appropriate.’
For existing ships, there is no alternative foam to be swapped in. The report said ‘the safety and survivability of naval ships and crew’ is dependent on PFAS-based firefighting foam that is currently used until an effective alternative is found.
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