Trio in Congress from Philly region address water contamination through military spending bill

      The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station is in Horsham, Pa. The military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water, the Defense Department said. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    The former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station is in Horsham, Pa. The military is checking whether chemicals from firefighting foam might have contaminated groundwater at hundreds of sites nationwide and potentially tainted drinking water, the Defense Department said. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    Three area congressmen successfully added amendments concerning drinking water contamination to a must-pass military spending bill.  The larger bill will get a vote later in the year.

    U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat, Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican representing Bucks and part of Montgomery County, and Pat Meehan, a Republican representing parts of five counties west of Philadelphia, each announced an amendment to the House’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with the goal of changing military action on water contamination from firefighting foam.

    For decades, the military used firefighting foams with perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA on bases across the country. In the past several years, concern has spiked over whether the chemicals are toxic, potentially endangering local communities whose water supply may have been tainted. According to the Bucks County Courier Times, since 2014, chemical contamination from military bases has closed 16 water wells and over 200 private wells, serving 70,000 people, in Bucks and Montgomery counties.

    While the military has investigated drinking water contamination, offering to pay for replacement water or filtration systems, many affected residents say they could do more. After futile attempts of calling on the military to fund a health study, the trio of area congressmen strategically folded amendments for health screenings and a study into an annual spending bill. The research could flag the health effects from exposure to the compounds, paving the way for future studies.

    “We proposed to change the law so that [the military] could deal directly with the local response groups, who are both evaluating the scope of potential problems and, as importantly, conducting testing for those who have experienced exposure to this over a period of time,” said Meehan.

    He added that conducting health screenings will fill the void of information on the impact of exposure to PFOS and PFOA.

    “We need to get the earliest possible awareness of that so that appropriate things can be done to ensure that those exposed get the right level of care,” Meehan said.

    Rep. Fitzpatrick added an amendment requiring the Department of Defense to fund a comprehensive health study that would investigate the potential health effects of exposure.

    Debating the amendment on the House floor, Fitzpatrick said, “Our constituents all have a right to safe, clean drinking water and they deserve to know if PFOS and PFOA have compromised their long-term health.”

    Boyle’s amendment would require the military to release a report on its progress in phasing out hazardous firefighting foams with environmentally safer replacements within 180 days.

    “It is time for Congress to oversee a swift, safe transition away from the use of these substances so that no additional household has to experience the health impacts and lingering uncertainty,” Boyle said in a release.

    The full Senate will vote on the final NDAA bill in the coming weeks.

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