Firefighting Foam Lawsuit News: DOD Sued Over PFAS Incineration

Published on February 21, 2020 by Sandy Liebhard

A prominent environmental group is suing the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) over contracts to burn PFAS-containing firefighting foam in communities across the country.

Firefighting Foam Incinerated in Ohio, New York, and Arkansas

According to Earthjustice, government documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request indicate millions of gallons of firefighting foam has been or continues to be incinerated at the Norlite facility in Cohoes, New York, as well as at sites in East Liverpool, Ohio and Arkadelphia and El Dorado, Arkansas.

The contracts also authorize incineration in other locations, including Port Arthur, Texas, and Sauget, Illinois. However, Earthjustice has not been able to determine if the DOD has actually commenced burning firefighting foam at any of those sites.

The Earthjustice firefighting foam lawsuit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, on behalf of Save Our County (East Liverpool, OH), Community In-Power and Development Association (Port Arthur, TX), United Congregations of Metro East (St. Louis Metro East), and Sierra Club. Each of these groups represent members in the communities where DOD has authorized PFAS incineration.

Why the DOD is Burning Firefighting Foam

Perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are manmade chemicals used in everything from stain retardant fabrics and Teflon cookware to food packaging and cleaning products. They have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down and are known to persist in the environment – and the human body – for decades.

Exposure to PFAS have been linked to cancer, liver disease, infertility, and other serious health effects.

For decades, the DOD used PFAS-containing firefighting foams at military bases across the United States. The Department is now defending multiple firefighting foam lawsuits that allege PFAS have contaminated the soil and groundwater in the surrounding communities. Faced with billions in liability, the DOD has opted to burn unused firefighting foam. However, it failed to conduct any environmental review before approving the incineration program.

Firefighting Foam Incineration May Release PFAS Emissions

“PFAS chemicals are used in firefighting foam precisely because they don’t burn,” Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, said in a statement announcing the group’s firefighting lawsuit. “Instead of destroying those chemicals, incinerating the foam releases PFAS and other toxins into the air.  DOD’s decision to authorize large-scale PFAS incineration without considering the health impacts is shortsighted and illegal.”

According to the complaint, incomplete incineration may result in the release of PFAS emissions, as well as other toxic chemicals like hydrogen fluoride, which is poisonous, corrosive and flammable.

In seeking to have the DOD’s contracts vacated and annulled, Earthjustice claims that firefighting foam incineration violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (NDAA).

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