Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick seeks to tie PFC health study to military spending bill
Bucks Congressman Brian Fizpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, announced Friday that he'll try and compel the military to pay for a health study examining whether people exposed to perfluorinated compounds were sickened by the chemicals.
To do so, the congressman has introduced two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that provides the legal framework for the military to disburse funds. That bill, one of two must-pass military spending bills that come up each year, is viewed by elected officials as a path of least resistance to require actions from the military.
Perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA were used for decades in firefighting foams employed by the military around the country. Concerns about their toxicity have skyrocketed over the past 15 years, causing the Department of Defense to begin a nationwide contamination investigation involving hundreds of military sites.
A trio of bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties represents one of the worst such contaminations. Since 2014, approximately 16 public water wells and more than 200 private wells, serving an estimated 70,000 people, have been closed due to chemical contamination from the bases.
The military has agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars locally to pay for replacement water or filtration systems, but its lack of commitment to pay for a health study or wells contaminated below the Environmental Protection Agency's safety limit has irked many, including Fitzpatrick.
"While the military does not dispute its responsibility for the well contamination, the response thus far has been unacceptable,” Fitzpatrick stated in a press release. “These amendments aim to pave the way for cleanups and remediation efforts, as well as providing Americans critical information about the impact these unregulated chemicals may have on their health."
After more than a year of fruitless calls for the military to pay for a health study, elected officials appear to be converging on a strategy of forcing a study through the annual military spending bills. Fitzpatrick's amendments follow the inclusion of language requiring a health study in the Senate version of the NDAA last month, on which U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, played a key role.
The Senate health study language cleared committee and is now part of the final NDAA bill, next up for a vote by the full Senate. Fitzpatrick's office said Friday that his amendments will be considered by the House Rules Committee. If that body clears the amendments, the full House will then vote on whether to include the amendments, in addition to voting on the final NDAA bill.
Fitzpatrick's health study amendment offers detailed language about what a health study would entail: a review of existing health information on PFOS and PFOA; input from the community and experts; biomonitoring for the chemicals; analysis of who would have been exposed to the chemicals; and analysis "for an association between such exposure and potential health effects."
"The Congressman has met and worked closely with a number of groups — local, state and federal government, military, and scientific community — to craft these amendments," Fitzpatrick's office said in a statement emailed on Friday.
The Fitzpatrick amendment uses strong language, stating that the Department of Defense "shall" complete the study within five years. The use of the word shall is important, as it acts as a requirement; amendments to the NDAA can also use the word "may," which authorizes spending but does not require it.
Efforts to compel the military to take action through the spending bills face a long road. Such amendments need to survive all the way through the passing of the NDAA and a separate military appropriations bill, in both the House and the Senate. Then, a signature from President Donald Trump would make them law.
In addition to a health study, Fitzpatrick introduced a second amendment that would require the Department of Defense to provide filtration systems for wells contaminated with the chemicals above "state or local" safety levels.
If passed, the amendment could also have significant implications for the DOD's actions on PFC contamination across the country. To date, the military has only agreed to pay for carbon filtration systems for public wells contaminated above 70 parts per trillion, the level the EPA says is safe.
But some researchers and state regulators have said that level is too high, and think the safe limit is far lower. Whether the military would honor a lower level put forth by a state or local regulator has mostly gone untested, but it appears Fitzpatrick's amendment would make that a requirement.