Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

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Congressmen press defense officials on firefighting foams following Friday Unwell Water story

Jun 16, 2017
In The News

Three area congressmen are pressing the federal government for more information following a Friday report by this news organization, which cited a document showing makers of firefighting foams and the military discussed serious concerns about the foams in 2001.

Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, Patrick Meehan, R-7, of Upper Darby, and Brendan Boyle, D-13, of Philadelphia, wrote a joint letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday.

“It has come to (our) attention that the U.S. Department of Defense had information concerning the possible adverse environmental and health effects stemming from the use of firefighting foams on military bases, over a decade before the public was made aware of those concerns,” the letter stated.

The letter and an accompanying press release credited this news organization with revealing the information. Our story investigated and confirmed the authenticity of the 2001 minutes of a meeting of foam manufacturers, in which the hazardous chemical ingredients PFOS and PFOA were described as "PBT" -- persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative in animals (meaning they accumulated in their bodies), and toxic.

According to the minutes, a U.S. undersecretary of defense wrote a letter to chemical company 3M that also described their PFOS-based products, including foams, as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic and said the Department of Defense would meet to discuss what steps to take. We requested the letter and any related documents from the DOD and U.S. Navy.

The three congressmen wrote that if the meeting minutes “accurately captured the content of the 2001 NFPA meeting, they show that DOD was aware of the problems regarding the use of PFC-based firefighting foams long before any effort was made to discontinue their use or protect the public.”

 

Military records show that it was only in 2011 that the Navy began investigating PFOS and PFOA contamination at area military bases. Widespread contamination of local water supplies, serving an estimated 70,000 area residents, wasn’t discovered until 2014.

In their letter, the congressmen also requested a copy of the undersecretary’s letter referenced in the minutes, details of that DOD meeting, and “any additional information from 2001 that explains DOD’s understanding” of PBT chemical traits found in firefighting foams.