Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) refers to an entire class of substances that includes perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA). PFAS are found in everyday consumer items – from nonstick cookware to water-resistant clothing. They are also found in certain firefighting foam known as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). DoD began using AFFF that contained PFAS in the 1970s and is one of many users of AFFF, with other major users including commercial airports, the oil and gas industry, and local fire departments. For additional information on DoD’s use of AFFF and developments of non-PFAS containing firefighting foams, click on our AFFF webpage.
While the science on PFAS is still evolving, people can be exposed to PFAS through a variety of means including drinking water and skin absorption. Information concerning exposures to PFAS can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) website and on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website.
DoD is currently supporting research efforts to determine potential health effects for people from PFAS exposures. A large number of studies have examined possible relationships between levels of PFAS in blood and harmful health effects in people. However, not all of these studies involved the same groups of people, the same amounts of exposure, or the same PFAS. These different studies therefore reported a variety of health outcomes. At this time, scientists are still learning about the health effects of exposures to mixtures of different PFAS.
Certain DoD operations and firefighting activities have a potential to release PFAS-containing materials to the environment. DoD follows federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) requirements for the investigation and cleanup of PFAS releases resulting from DoD activities. An overview of the CERCLA process can be found on our CERCLA 101 page.
When released into the environment, PFAS can enter into the soil and migrate through surface water (including lakes and rivers) and groundwater. In some cases, these waters serve as a source of drinking water for individuals (private water wells) or a municipality. Not all groundwater is used for drinking water, and the groundwater that is used for drinking water is often treated before consumption. This treatment ensures that the water that is ultimately consumed by the public is safe and meets all state and federal requirements for water quality. Additional information on PFAS in drinking water and PFAS in groundwater and DoD’s investigation efforts are included here.
A1: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a large class of chemicals found in many consumer products, as well as in industrial products such as certain firefighting foam called aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). PFAS is also found in essential use applications such as in microelectronics, batteries and medical equipment.
A2: The Department is taking a number of actions to address PFAS, such as developing of an alternative to PFAS-containing firefighting foam, addressing PFAS releases related to past DoD activities under federal cleanup laws, investing in research and development to support these efforts, and engaging with the public on PFAS concerns. DoD remains dedicated to transparent communication and open dialogue with our military personnel and their families, members of Congress, and the people living in communities near military installations. PFAS remains a complex national issue and many federal and state agencies are working together to address it.
A3: Protecting the health of our personnel, their families, and the communities in which we serve is a priority for the Department. In 2019, the Secretary of Defense established a PFAS Task Force to provide strategic leadership and direction and ensure a coordinated, aggressive, and holistic approach to DoD-wide efforts to address PFAS. The Task Force has issued numerous PFAS-related guidance documents to implement statutory requirements as well as ensure DoD is approaching PFAS in a consistent manner across the Military Departments. Under the guidance of the Task Force, the Department has made notable progress in addressing a range of PFAS issues. These include ensuring safe drinking water on installations, the development of an alternative to PFAS-containing firefighting foam, addressing PFAS releases related to past DoD activities under the federal cleanup law, substantial investment in research and development to support these efforts, and has expanded outreach and engagement with the public.
A5: The Department posts PFAS drinking water results and planned sampling events within covered areas on DoD’s PFAS website and provides advanced notification of any sampling events to managers of public water systems, heads of the municipal government, and Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) community members, as applicable. In compliance with the federal cleanup law, DoD coordinates sampling plans with environmental regulators in affected communities.
A6: DoD’s estimated cost to investigate and clean up per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 and beyond is $7.0 billion (estimate as of the end of FY2022). This is a preliminary estimate that DoD expects will increase significantly as the initial assessments are completed and more information is known about the extent of the cleanup required. In general, the Department cannot estimate how long it will take or how much it will cost to completely address its PFAS releases until it knows the extent of those releases. The Department will be able to provide better estimates as the initial assessments are completed over the next few years and federal regulations establish nationwide cleanup levels.
A7: Because the interim health advisories are below detectable limits at non-regulatory levels, the Department is instead focused on EPA’s proposed nationwide drinking water standard. On March 14, 2023, the EPA proposed drinking water maximum contaminant level regulation for six PFAS. DoD respects and values the public comment process on this proposed nationwide drinking water rule and looks forward to the clarity that a final regulatory drinking water standard for PFAS will provide. In anticipation of the final standard that EPA expects to publish by the end of 2023, the Department is assessing what actions DoD can take to be prepared to incorporate EPA’s final regulatory standard into our current cleanup process, such as reviewing our existing data and conducting additional sampling where necessary. We remain committed to fulfilling our cleanup responsibilities, operating within the law and authorities provided by the federal cleanup law, and clearly communicating and engaging with communities.
A8: PFAS is found in everyday consumer items – from nonstick cookware to water-resistant clothing. PFAS is also found in essential use applications such as in microelectronics, batteries and medical equipment. Reports indicate most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood. Health monitoring studies show PFAS is most prominently detected in workers associated with manufacturing activities and in communities with elevated levels of PFAS in their drinking water. Current scientific research suggests that exposure to high levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health outcomes such as reproductive effects (e.g., decreased fertility), immune effects, and increased risk of some cancers, but it is unclear what health effects are associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS. Additional information regarding PFAS exposure can be found on the EPA website and on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. The science on PFAS is evolving. There is extensive research being done to determine where PFAS exist and what impact they have on human health and the environment.
A9: DoD is moving toward complete removal of AFFF at its installations and transitioning to PFAS-free alternatives to AFFF. Several fluorine-free foams are currently proceeding through the military specification qualification process, and the Department plans to begin the transition to the use of these products in the Fall of 2023. The Military Departments have developed transition plans for their facilities and mobile assets. These plans include using new fluorine-free foams, as well as other available technologies, such as water only systems and floor drains.
A10: DoD has a unique mission requirement to rapidly suppress fires that involve jet fuel and in some cases explosives. To do this, DoD’s use of PFAS for this specific aircraft fuel fire-fighting purpose started in the 1970s, with the introduction of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). AFFF is mission critical because it quickly extinguishes petroleum-based fires, thus minimizing loss of life and protecting equipment and facilities. It is important to note that DOD no longer uses AFFF on its installations for any testing or training if it cannot be fully contained and appropriately disposed of. Over the past few years, the Department has undertaken an aggressive initiative to develop and demonstrate PFAS-free alternatives for AFFF. Since 2017, DoD has invested over $28M to develop and test nearly 20 PFAS-free agents. Several PFAS-free foams are currently proceeding through the military specification qualification process, and the Department plans to begin the transition to the use of these products. The Military Departments are also evaluating available technologies, in addition to alternative foams, to replace current AFFF systems in facilities.
A11: Yes. DoD is identifying the best technologies to characterize, treat, and manage PFAS impacted sites. DoD has invested over $160M through Fiscal Year 2022 with another $60M planned through FY2025 and supports over 200 technology development and demonstration projects that advance the detection, investigation, cleanup, and destruction of PFAS. DoD will award 16 projects by Fall of 2023. DoD is committed to the continued advancement of these technologies and has several field demonstrations planned in FY23 to evaluate technologies. For more information on SERDP’s and ESTCP’s efforts on treatment methodologies, including a summary of the in situ and ex situ remedial approaches that are currently being developed here.