Department of Defense expands list of military sites to investigate for #PFAS contamination

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

Here’s the release from the National Ground Water Association:

A U.S. Department of Defense progress report released on March 13 states the number of sites it is investigating for potential release of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the environment has grown from 401 to 651 as of September 2019.

The report summarizes the PFAS task force’s accomplishments since its establishment in July 2019 and its planned activities moving forward.

According to the report, no U.S. military personal on or off bases is drinking water above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion where the DoD is the known source of drinking water. Where levels exceed the EPA’s health advisory level, the DoD has provided bottled water and filters, and taken other actions as appropriate.

Additional updates include the following items.

  • No PFAS-free foam has met the strict safety standards the DoD requires to rapidly extinguish fuel fires. The DoD only uses aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to respond to emergency events and no longer uses it for land-based testing and training. To limit environmental effects, the department treats each use of AFFF as a spill response. The DoD is investing $49 million through fiscal year 2025 in research, development, testing, and evaluation to find an effective alternative.
  • Each military service is collecting drinking water sampling results where DoD is the purveyor and maintaining the data in a centralized database.
  • Scientists are still studying the health effects of PFAS exposure. The DoD has provided $30 million and will provide an additional $10 million this year, to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct exposure assessments in the communities around eight current and former military installations, as well as a multisite health study.
  • The task force will explore potential options for addressing PFAS overseas.
  • First map shows global hotspots of glyphosate contamination — The University of Sydney

    Here’s the release from the University of Sydney (Marcus Strom):

    Experts call for phasing out of reliance on controversial herbicide

    Glyphosate, or Roundup, is under scrutiny because of possible impacts on human health and ecosystems. Here Federico Maggi and Alex McBratney present the world’s first map detailing contamination hotspots of the controversial herbicide.

    Global hazard map of glyphosate contamination in soils. Credit: The University of Sydney

    Agricultural scientists and engineers have produced the world’s first map detailing global ‘hot spots’ of soil contaminated with glyphosate, a herbicide widely known as Roundup.

    The map is published as the world’s eyes fall on glyphosate and concerns about its potential impact on environmental and human health. Last year in the US the owner of Roundup, Monstanto (now owned by Bayer), was ordered to pay $US2 billion to a couple who said they contracted cancer from the weedkiller, the third case the company had lost.

    This year, Australia is emerging as the next legal battleground over whether the herbicide causes cancer with a class action suit being prepared for the Federal Court.

    “The scientific jury is still out on whether the chemical glyphosate is a health risk,” said Professor Alex McBratney, director of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. “But we should apply the precautionary principle when it comes to the health risks.

    “And even if no evidence emerges about these risks, it is time for the agriculture industry to diversify our herbicides away from relying on a single chemical.”

    The map and associated study have been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

    Lead author of the paper is Associate Professor Federico Maggi from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Faculty of Engineering. He said: “Glyphosate is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. About 36 million square kilometres are treated with 600 to 750 thousand tonnes every year – and residues are found even in remote areas.”

    Hot spots

    The paper identifies hotspots of glyphosate residue in Western Europe, Brazil and Argentina, as well as parts of China and Indonesia. Contamination refers to concentration levels above the background level.

    “Our analysis shows that Australia is not a hotspot of glyphosate contamination, but some regions are subject to some contamination hazard in NSW and QLD and, to a lesser extent, in all other mainland states,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    He said that given the widespread use of the herbicide, soil contamination is unpreventable. This is because it is hard to be degraded by soil microorganisms when it reaches pristine environments, or it releases a highly persistent contaminant called aminomethyl-phosphonic acid (AMPA) when it is degraded.

    The researchers emphasise that contamination levels do not necessarily equate to any environmental or health risks as these are still unknown and require further study.

    “Our recent environmental hazard analysis considers four modes of environmental contamination by glyphosate and AMPA – biodegradation recalcitrance, residues accumulation in soil, leaching and persistence,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    “We found that 1 percent of global croplands – about 385,000 square kilometres – has a mid- to high-contamination hazard.”

    He said that contamination is pervasive globally, but is highest in South America, Europe and East and South Asia. It is mostly correlated to the cultivation of soybean and corn, and is mainly caused by AMPA recalcitrance and accumulation rather than glyphosate itself.

    “While there are controversial perspectives on the safety of glyphosate use on human health, little is known about AMPA’s toxicity and potential impacts on biodiversity, soil function and environmental health. Much further study is required,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    Poor long-term policy

    Professor McBratney said aside from the risks to human health, it is poor long-term agriculture policy to rely on glyphosate as a herbicide.

    “Weeds are genetically adapting and building resistance to glyphosate,” he said. “And there is growing evidence that a new generation of precision herbicide application could further improve yields.”

    Professor McBratney said Australia was well placed to economically benefit from the development of new herbicides.

    “In these times of increasing food demand, relying on a single molecule to sustain the world’s baseload crop production puts us in a very precarious position,” he said. “We urgently need to find alternatives to glyphosate to control weeds in agriculture.”

    Pentagon IDs Four More #NewMexico Sites At Risk Of #PFAS Contamination — New Mexico in Focus

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

    On Friday, March 13, just as federal and state agencies ramped up emergency efforts to address the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report summarizing its progress on PFAS issues through the end of last September.

    According to its updated list, the military will assess whether activities at the Army National Guard armories in Rio Rancho and Roswell, the Army Aviation Support Facility in Santa Fe, and White Sands Missile Range have polluted groundwater with PFAS. The toxic compounds do not biodegrade, and have been linked to cancer and many other health problems.

    Nationwide, the updated list of military sites under investigation swelled from 450 military locations to 651. The military does not appear to have notified states, including New Mexico, prior to making the list public.

    According to the report from the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force, the military’s earlier investigations focused on contamination from aqueous film forming foams, which the military used for firefighting and training from the 1970s until just a few years ago.

    The updated progress report notes that the task force’s expanded investigations now also focus on “installations where PFAS may have been used or released.”

    The report does not include details about specific activities that might have exposed people or the environment to PFAS. Defense Department spokesman Chuck Pritchard could not be reached for additional information before publication…

    The recent Defense Department report also notes that the funding for PFAS cleanup included as part of the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act is inadequate.

    According to the report, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles will need to be retrofitted entirely—meaning that each vehicle component that came into contact with the firefighting foams will need to be replaced—at a cost of almost $200,000 per vehicle. That alone, according to the report, adds $600 million to earlier cleanup estimates.

    Alternately, replacing the Defense Department’s current fleet of about 3,000 contaminated vehicles will cost $4 to $6 billion—and take 18 years.

    The report also notes that as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has committed $30 million to study PFAS exposure in eight communities near former and current military installations. Those studies are happening in West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Washington, and Delaware. The military is also “developing a framework” to annually test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS levels.

    #EagleRiver Watershed Council: What in the watershed?

    Here’s a guest column from the Eagle River Watershed Council that’s running in the Vail Daily:

    Dear ERWC: Winter is certainly going to return, but with a warm week behind us I’m thinking about spring cleaning and one of the items on my list is the adventure vehicle. What is the best way to clean my truck with the least impact on our rivers? — Mike, Eagle

    Mike: Some might say the answer is to wash at home, where one has direct control regarding water usage and detergent choice. However, when it comes to the health of our watershed and overall water quality, that’s actually not recommended.

    Washing a car at home can be more economical and allows time to get into the nitty-gritty details, but what it doesn’t allow for is the capture of contaminated water.

    Modern and established car washes adhere to strict standards set in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Through the Clean Water Act, they’re required to capture the water running off your car — full of phosphates, oils, dirt and other chemicals — and route it to treatment facilities or approved drainage facilities.

    This allows for all of those chemicals to be neutralized and removed before entering the waterways. The drains at the end of driveways are for stormwater and they flow directly into our rivers and streams with no treatment whatsoever.

    Water quantity should also be taken into consideration, especially given that we are in the arid west and water is a precious resource. Commercial car washes use 60% less water on average compared to washing a car at home, making them far more efficient at removing the six months of road dirt and magnesium chloride caked on your SUV.

    Here in Colorado, commercial car washes are able to use “reclaimed water” or wastewater that has been treated to a safe level but can’t be used for drinking water. This reduces the stress on drinking water supplies and reduces the energy used for treatment.

    There is an appropriate way to wash your car at home, should you decide that is still best for you. The EPA recommends the use of biodegradable detergents that are water-based and free of phosphates. It is also a best practice to wash vehicles on a lawn or similar surface. This allows for the contaminants to filter out through the ground before entering the streams — and hey, this waters your lawn too. Additionally, it is recommended to use some form of spray control, such as a pressure washer or other hose attachment to reduce water usage.

    Are you curious about critters around the rivers? Do you want to know how snowpack is measured? Do you have questions about our watershed? The Watershed Council has answers! You can email dilzell@erwc.org with your questions – and they might just be featured in articles like this one in our new series: What in the Watershed?

    James Dilzell is the Education & Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

    #ColoradoSprings: Cottonwood Creek stormwater stabilization project update

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    City officials announced last week it received a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for stabilization work along 9,000 feet of Cottonwood Creek, Biolchini said. The city plans to match the grant with $993,924 from funds intended to improve its stormwater management.

    The work will also keep thousands of cubic yards of sediment from washing into Fountain Creek and flowing south to Pueblo, Biolchini said. The project is among 71 Colorado Springs must complete as part of an agreement with Pueblo County to better control the volume and quality of water flowing south in Fountain Creek…

    Colorado Springs officials expect to spend $16 million in 2020 on stormwater improvements using fees paid by homeowners and nonresidential property owners, according to the city’s website. Officials must spend $100 million on stormwater projects, operations and maintenance from 2016 through 2020 to comply with the Pueblo agreement. Projects are on track to hit that goal, Biolchini said. The five-year benchmark is part of the requirement to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater improvement.

    Construction to help prevent erosion of Cottonwood Creek is expected to be designed this year and completed in 2021, he said.

    The construction will likely include reshaping the banks so they have gradual slopes and burying hardened structures to keep the creek from changing course, he said.

    @EPA Handling Multiple #PFAS-Related Criminal Investigations — Bloomberg Environment

    From Bloomberg Environment (Ellen M. Gilmer):

    The EPA is involved in multiple PFAS-related criminal investigations, the agency said Wednesday, adding another knot to an already complex legal landscape for “forever chemicals.”

    The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged the probes in a new progress report on its 2019 PFAS Action Plan. The document says the agency “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.”

    […]

    EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Bloomberg Law the agency is committed to using all its enforcement authorities to address contamination.

    “We do use all of our enforcement tools, so if it’s warranted for criminal, we would certainly look to do that,” he said after a National Association of State Department’s of Agriculture event in Arlington, Va.

    Wheeler declined to give further detail, saying he couldn’t comment on pending investigations. Federal criminal investigations and related files are confidential.

    “Multiple investigations clearly signals EPA is serious about understanding what the manufacturers knew about the chemicals’ toxicity and when they knew it,” said Earth & Water Law Group founder Brent Fewell, an EPA official during the George W. Bush administration. “EPA is likely focused on whether the PFAS manufacturers knowingly failed to disclose to EPA the known risks of the chemical.”

    “It’s not at all surprising,” he added, “that EPA has signaled a criminal investigation or even multiple investigations into PFAS given the heightened health concerns and public attention.”

    Cleanups and health care costs tied to the “forever chemicals” known as #PFAS could reach into the billions. Has DuPont found a way not to pay? — NBC News

    From NBC News (Gretchen Morgenson):

    …there’s a risk that [Robin Andrews] and other people with illnesses linked to the chemicals could end up with no compensation for their health problems. That’s because a major manufacturer, DuPont, recently unloaded its PFAS obligations to smaller companies that do not have the money to pay for them.

    For decades, DuPont manufactured PFAS-type chemicals in a plant close to Andrews’ home in this tiny South Jersey town on marshy land near the Delaware River. Her grandfather and father both worked at the sprawling plant, known as the Chambers Works, which covers 1,400 acres of riverbank in the shadow of the bridge to Delaware.

    In 2017, after she developed unexplained high liver enzymes, her well water tested positive for PFAS; she now runs it through a large filtration system in her basement and has it monitored every three months.

    DuPont “could have been a great company and a very good thing for this area had they chosen to take care of people and to be responsible with the way they disposed of these toxins,” Andrews told NBC News. “But they weren’t. I believe it was an economic decision to put people at risk.”

    Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, has watched DuPont’s moves with concern. “They are setting up other companies to take the fall on liabilities that won’t have enough money, so even if people win lawsuits, they will get nothing or very little,” he said.

    PFAS are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act and their side effects are still being understood by scientists and the public. In February, the EPA put out a proposal to regulate two of the most common PFAS chemicals found in drinking water and is asking for comment on how to monitor them.

    On Wednesday, the EPA disclosed it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution.” The agency did not identify the entities being investigated and it could not be determined if DuPont is one of them.

    Daniel Turner, reputation and media relations manager for DuPont, said the company had not received an information request from the EPA related to a criminal investigation…

    In 2015, as problems associated with PFAS were becoming clearer, DuPont began a series of complex transactions that transformed the company’s structure. As a result of the transactions, responsibility for environmental obligations associated with the chemicals shifted onto other entities.

    The first shift by DuPont occurred in 2015, when it assigned the great majority of liabilities associated with PFAS to The Chemours Company, a new entity containing DuPont’s chemicals business that was spun off to its shareholders…

    In a statement provided to NBC News, DuPont spokesman Turner denied that the Chemours spin-off was an attempt to evade environmental and legal liabilities associated with PFAS. “The reason for the spin-off,” Turner said, was that DuPont “was seeking to transform itself into a higher growth, higher value company” and “saw more growth opportunities in its other businesses.”

    A second spin-off was Corteva Inc., in 2019, an agriculture science company that holds other legacy DuPont operations and some PFAS liabilities.

    The third transaction occurred last June when so-called new DuPont was created. Formerly known as DowDupont, its businesses include electronics, transportation and construction. Because of the two other spin-offs, new DuPont is two steps removed from PFAS obligations…

    Chemours, with primary responsibility for the estimated tens of billions of dollars in PFAS obligations, does not have anywhere near the money or assets to cover them. Chemours’ net worth — its assets minus liabilities — stood at just $695 million as of Dec. 31, 2019.

    If Chemours becomes insolvent, Corteva Inc. will be responsible, corporate filings show. Corteva does not have the funds to cover tens of billions in estimated PFAS costs either. Turner declined to say whether PFAS responsibilities would ultimately revert to DuPont if Chemours and Corteva are unable to pay them. A lawyer for Chemours declined to comment.

    Corporate spin-offs like DuPont’s that transfer liabilities associated with problematic businesses are becoming more common, analysts say, especially in the energy and chemical fields.

    “You’re seeing it again and again,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Spinning off your legacy liabilities into a separate corporation and to some other responsible party appears to be part of the standard playbook in these industries.”

    […]

    DuPont is not the only PFAS manufacturer under scrutiny. Another is 3M, headquartered in Minneapolis. Both companies stopped making PFAS over a decade ago. 3M is fighting the suits and says it is cooperating with government investigators.

    DuPont and 3M both face lawsuits over problems allegedly linked to PFAS. But DuPont’s shift of its PFAS liabilities to Chemours has drawn its own raft of litigation. In a complaint filed last year against DuPont by Chemours, it contended that the 2015 deal was fraudulent. DuPont knew and intentionally hid the scope of the liabilities when it dumped them into Chemours, the company alleged.

    In response, DuPont says Chemours executives were well aware of the PFAS problems at the time of the spin-off and could not have been duped. Next up is the judge’s ruling on oral arguments in the case…

    Legal filings allege DuPont knew for decades that PFAS posed a threat to humans…

    In early PFAS cases, lawyers for plaintiffs found internal, undisclosed DuPont documents showing toxicity in PFAS. While the company has acknowledged the findings in court filings, it argued that they were either inconclusive or applicable only to employees working with the chemicals, not to people drinking tap water near DuPont facilities.

    The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that DuPont began to recognize toxicity in the most common PFAS chemical in the 1960s but did not tell the state or local communities about the problem.

    DuPont has not answered the New Jersey complaint but in previous lawsuits, DuPont has denied that it hid PFAS risks. DuPont spokesman Turner declined to say how long DuPont knew about the toxicity of PFAS, but said the company has provided extensive information over the years to the EPA about potential harm related to the chemicals.

    The New Jersey suit also says DuPont hid the results of a 1981 blood sampling study of pregnant employees who worked with the chemicals that found one-quarter had children with birth defects…

    The potential that shareholders will take on undervalued liabilities is greater in spin-offs, merger experts say. That’s because the kind of in-depth due diligence that a third-party buyer would do to to determine possible liabilities is not typically done by new owners in a spin-off. Those owners are essentially trusting the parent company to be forthcoming about the obligations.

    Had DuPont instead sold its legacy chemicals businesses to another company, the buyer would have dug into the obligations associated with its PFAS production prior to the purchase. Any resulting deal would take those potential liabilities into account, resulting in either a lower sale price, an insurance policy or a right by the buyer to recover costs from DuPont later.

    Because DuPont’s existing shareholders took on the liabilities in the Chemours and Corteva spin-offs, that detailed assessment was not done. The Chemours lawsuit alleges that DuPont pursued the spin-off so it “could control the transaction structure and economics” after concluding that “no rational buyer” would accept the liabilities associated with PFAS.

    DuPont spokesman Turner disputed this, saying that multiple firms submitted proposals to acquire Chemours before the spin-off. He declined to provide specifics about those companies, however, or their bids.

    Back in 2015, when DuPont was preparing to spin off Chemours, the parent company made insufficient disclosures about the environmental liabilities to be shouldered by the new shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission found. The company had to provide more details, regulatory filings show.

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]