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The climate action and legal group Earthjustice sued the Department of Defense Thursday for endangering public health by unsafely incinerating PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals." (Photo: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond / U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons)

Earthjustice Sues DOD for 'Short-sighted and Illegal' Incineration of PFAS in Communities Across Country

"Incineration does not solve the Defense Department's PFAS problems; it just pawns them off on already overburdened communities."

Julia Conley, staff writer

Slamming the Department of Defense for endangering the health of people in communities across the U.S., environmental law group Earthjustice on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon for the military's unsafe disposal of the class of substances known as "forever chemicals."

Earthjustice is suing the department over its contracts in communities across the country to incinerate unused firefighting foam, which contains PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. The chemicals are used in many everyday products, and the DOD is the nation's biggest user of firefighting foam that contains them.

Green groups call PFAS "forever chemicals" because they don't easily break down and can stay in the environment and people's bodies for decades after exposure.

In a statement, Earthjustice cited the CDC as saying "the presence and concentration of PFAS in U.S. drinking water presents 'one of the most seminal public health challenges for the next decades.'"

The DOD's unsafe incineration is taking place towns across the country, including East Liverpool, Ohio; Arkadelphia and El Dorado, Arkansas; and Cohoes, New York. East Liverpool was among the towns named as a plaintiff in Earthjustice's suit.

Earthjustice said in its lawsuit that the DOD practices are potentially exposing residents to cancer and other health problems.

"The Department of Defense failed to conduct any environmental review before approving this incineration, bringing into new communities the risk of PFAS emissions and other pollution that are proven to harm public health," Earthjustice said.

The government's contracts to incinerate the foam are in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Earthjustice said, which states that the DOD must incinerate PFAS at a high enough temperature to break them down and that it's required to phase out foam that contains the chemicals.

"DOD's decision to authorize large-scale PFAS incineration without considering the health impacts is shortsighted and illegal," Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, told The Hill.

"Incineration does not solve the Defense Department's PFAS problems; it just pawns them off on already overburdened communities," he added.

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