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STAFF: All right, so let's jump in. So for everyone who's joined so far, I don't know that we have all of our declared participants yet, but welcome, and thanks for joining us for our third quarterly DOD PFAS public outreach session.
We're going to turn it over to Mr. Kidd here momentarily, but I just wanted to provide ground rules before we get started. We are recording this session, and we will post the transcripts to the DOD PFAS spotlight page once that's complete after the event. If you can, please keep yourself on mute as we go through the session and the presentations - that just ensures no background noise.
STAFF: As a perfect example of my point, please identify yourself by name and organization when speaking to everyone so that we all know who you are. And also, if you are giving a presentation this evening, and you've communicated that to me in advance, I've got you on a list. We will call you by name as we work through that list. And with that, Mr. Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience, you have the floor.
RICHARD KIDD: Peter, thanks for the opening. Thanks for all your hard work setting this up.
I'd also like to welcome everyone who's joined us here this evening.
We're going to do things a little bit different from our previous two sessions. So just as you recall, this is the third dedicated public outreach the Department of Defense has been doing on the topic of PFAS. The first one, I did in July, which focused quite a bit on just the mechanics and the process of CERCLA and the overall funding situation. This was followed up by a deep dive in October by Dr. Herb Nelson on the search for AFFF alternatives and where we stand in that process.
After each one of those we solicited comments back from the folks who participated. And we got a lot of good feedback that said, hey, you need to move the meetings later so that we can do our day jobs and join you, so thus we're starting at 5:00, and also many of you have asked for an opportunity to share your perspectives in greater detail with all of the members of the department that are working this. So today we have with us representatives from each of the services, we have Ms. Amy Borman, who's the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army. There's Amy with a nice hand wave. We have Mr. Karnig Ohannessian and he's also the deputy -- he's the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy. And we have Mr. Jim Sample who's the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, and his PFAS expert Kate Lynnes. Kate? There we go.
All right, so Peter, are you going to put the slides up? Next slide. Peter, can you advance the slide one?
STAFF: I can do that, sir.
MR. KIDD: There we go. So, this is the overall agenda. Look, I'm going to take a few more minutes at the beginning, just to give you a little bit of an update on some of the big picture issues here at DOD, but I'm going to keep this short. We have then some public remarks which have been coordinated in advance with Peter. So we will work through those. Then I will turn it over to each of the service reps in order introduced Army, Navy, Air Force, and they'll give a few brief remarks about where they are with the service and then we'll have public comments and questions and then we'll wrap it up. So it's going to be a little bit less structured than some of the ones that we've done before.
So next slide, please.
So again, for those of you who've been here with us before, this is sort of a continuation of earlier slides that we presented, I just wanted to give an update on where we are in fulfilling our cleanup responsibilities. We have ongoing preliminary assessments, and site inspections at 700 installations. We have completed 190 of those. We have evaluated all of the off base drinking water for both DOD and entities where -- that may be using DOD drinking water. We have obligated over one and a half billion dollars to conduct mitigation, investigations and cleanup. And we have about 150, a little more than 150 in research and development to advance a number of technologies related to the cleanup process.
The figures for the progress through the preliminary assessment site inspections are collected on a quarterly basis. And so the numbers here have not changed much from the numbers that many of you saw in the testimony in December. But we intend to update those once we get the last quarter results in and review. Next slide.
So I thought I would just quickly go over some of the PFAS related provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act. But before I do that, I’d just like to set the stage here. This is an Authorization Act. It is not an appropriations. So many of you sent in questions about what we were going to do with the additional appropriations that we have been -- the additional monies that have been set forth in the defense authorization act? Well, the reality is none of those monies have been received. The reality is that we are operating on a continuing resolution. And that creates, there's some good news and some bad news in that for the program. The good news is that, you know, our F.Y. '21 appropriations were more than sufficient to keep us on pace for the cleanup process. So the cleanup process is going on without constraint due to the C.R. The C.R. has some smaller provisions, others, you know, that you may not be familiar with. The continuing resolution prohibits any new start activities. So if there was an activity that was not started in '21, then we are technically prohibited from starting that in '22 until we get a '22 appropriation. So fortunately, most of our contracts, our cleanup contracts and other things are expansive and flexible. And that doesn't appear to be constraining the program.
The other -- and this is perhaps the most significant constraint, though, is the time and availability of our contracting officer workforce. So all of our work goes through contracting activities. And those activities, the personnel when we're on the C.R., they are often having you do what's called contract extensions, or re-competes or other activities. And they have to do it on a two to three month cycle as opposed to an annual cycle. And one of my significant concerns, I think we all share this in the department, is if we do not get appropriations soon that we will then have a year worth of contracting to do in three months. If we do not get any appropriations and we are on a C.R., then some of those constraints about new starts may begin to affect us in the fall. So, I just want to outline that the appropriate -- the Authorization Act is not an appropriation, and the lack of a budget is going to be felt in terms of some of the behind the scenes constraints on the program.
So with that, just want to sort of go through some of the provisions of the NDAA and our initial take on it. So, Section 341 this is codified in statute, the PFAS Task Force that was initiated by Secretary Esper and expanded and reinforced by Secretary Austin. So, we're doing that. It calls on us to complete our preliminary assessments and site inspections by December 27, 2023. Right now, we also believe that we are on track to do that.
Section 334 extends the transfer authority of funding for Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registration. So this is one of the small areas where we're caught up in the difference between an authorization and an appropriation. So we need the dollar specifically appropriated to do this in '22 before we can execute the transfer.
Right now, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, is not experiencing any slowdowns because of our inability to transfer. But we have concerns for what could occur later in the year if we do not get a final appropriation. 343 requires DOD to prohibit incineration of materials contain PFAS after April until we -- unless or until we issue guidance. So, I want to just, you know, tease this out just a little bit. So the Department of Defense does not run incinerators. The Department of Defense, for PFAS -- we run incinerators for chemical weapons disposal -- different entirely. For PFAS incineration the department ships to a third party contractor who would incinerate the materials in an EPA and a state permitted facility. So I just want to be clear that some of the questions talked about DOD incinerators. There are no DOD PFAS incinerators. And this provision is a prohibition until we issue guidance. So we are on track to issue that guidance and meet this provision.
344 requires the Department to conduct reviews related to prevention and mitigation of spills of firefighting foam, AFFF, within 180 days, including permitted maintenance guidelines for fire trucks and fire suppression systems and buildings. So, we do plan to meet this this timeline. I think many of you know that we must report every incident to Congress. So, I've read all of the incidents of AFFF released by the department, some of them being in fire suppression activities, some of them due to human error and some of them due to mechanical error. And it has -- we have some significant concerns about the age of some of our fire trucks, and the wear and tear that has been put on those apparatus over the years.
Next slide. So 345 requires the Department to publicly disclose drinking water results from covered areas within 20 days of receiving a sampling result. We have started the process of drafting implementing guidance which will go from the department of defense to the military departments. And we have already put in place the ability to post these results on our PFAS website.
This portion of the Act also requires us to publicly disclose on a quarterly basis any anticipated timeline and general location of any planned PFAS drinking water testing within the covered areas. In addition, DOD is required to notify managers of public water system and heads of municipal governments within a covered area, as well as members of any restoration advisory boards, or local community entities. So this is a big lift, it’s going to put a lot of additional demands on the folks on the ground at the local installations. But again, we believe that we are on track to propagate this guidance and implement this section.
346 requires us to review mutual support agreements that we may have with outside entities. Essentially, those are agreements where our fire -- our firefighters, our fire stations agree to help local communities in the event of a fire and the local community agrees to support our fire stations in the event of a fire. This is a standard procedure amongst first responders to help and assist each other when needed. And we'll take a look at those agreements to make sure that there's appropriate guidance in there around any real thing related to spill of AFFF.
347 is the GAO is going to conduct a study on the procurement -- of DOD's procurement of certain items that may contain PFAS. And we will obviously cooperate with the GAO in the development of that study. And there's a couple of specific things that were called out -- furniture and floor wax, car wax, car window treatment, cleaning products, shoes and clothing, where there might not be a specific mission-essential need for PFAS treatment. So again, we'll work with GAO and make sure that that report has our full cooperation and input.
348 requires DOD to report a schedule for completion of remediation of PFAS, as well as a cost of completion. So we will do this within the timeline. But I just want to set expectations as I've been consistent, we will not know the full costs until we work our way through the CERCLA process, and understand the engineering challenges of each specific site and prioritize those. So we will provide our best initial estimate and initial schedule. And those will change over time, by design and by intent.
349 requires us to report on the status and remediation of PFAS of certain military installations within 60 days. We will do this, but we will not meet the 60 day mark. And we're going to ask Congress for a little bit of extension, small extension just to -- just for administrative purposes so we can collect up the details on all those 60 sites. So we have to go back out and -- correction, all of the sites that remained within 60 days, we're going to have to go back out and collect information from the ground. And that's going to take a little bit of time. But again, we're on track to meet that as well.
So those are the key sort of provisions inside the NDAA that affect PFAS. And with that, that concludes the sort of my remarks, my prepared remarks. Peter, I'll turn it over to you. And we can go ahead and go into the -- to listening session or if anyone has any real specific comments, write their names or sections and I'm flexible, I can either take that now or we can hold -- maybe hold those to the end. But over to you Peter, you're the chaperon and guide here.
STAFF: Copy sir, I can't think of anything more terrifying. What we're going to do next is turn it over to the service representatives to introduce themselves. And I don't have unfortunately the list in front of me but why don't we start with Ms. Borman, and I can pull up your slide ma'am, to get you started here.
AMY BORMAN: Yes, great, Peter. Thank you. So while Peter is pulling up my slide, I'll just go ahead and introduce myself and start talking and hopefully we'll catch up here. So, as Peter mentioned, and as Richard mentioned, my name is Amy Borman, and I am the Army's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health. I've been in this position for about two years. And I can assure you that the Army team is working very diligently on all things related to PFAS. And the focus of, of the team within the Army, and I'm sure this is consistent with the other services, is that safety, health and stewardship are non-negotiable for us. And so, I do want to just walk you through where the Army is, what we're doing and how we're doing it, to give you a little bit of an idea, and demonstrate to you that we are taking action, and we are taking PFAS seriously.
Just the last piece that I wanted to add, as a way of introducing myself, like many of my colleagues, while not a member of the military, specifically, I am a spouse, military spouse, and my husband retired recently after a 30 year career. And so I have spent some time on our installations and certainly in the communities surrounding our installations.
So with regards to PFAS, and the particular slide that you see in front of you, the Army has taken really a three-pronged approach to managing risk, which focuses on our past releases, cleaning up our past releases on testing our drinking water, and then mitigating the use of aqueous film forming foam. I'm just going to use AFFF, if you all don't mind.
And so I just like to start, if I may, walking you through what each of these three columns look like. And this information is readily available, we will keep it posted on our HQDA website. You can see that on the slide as well. Just a little caveat to that, if I may, that headquarters website is down. We are working very quickly to get that back up with some free information. And we're hoping to have that back online by the end of February, hopefully soon, but by the end of February at least.
So, with regards to cleaning up our past releases, we work within the framework of CERCLA. And we are in the process of conducting PFAS assessments at 337 Army installations. And that number is inclusive of our active Army, our Army National Guard sites, Army Reserve as well as our BRAC sites. And we recognize that across these 337 installations, we have noted that PFAS may have been used, stored or potentially released.
As of September 30th of 2021, this gets back to the date that Richard mentioned. We are -- we have reported our fourth quarter data, we're getting ready to report our first quarter data, but it hasn't been released yet. As soon as that's released, you'll see the slide be updated. So as of the end of the fourth quarter, we've completed 75 of our preliminary assessments site investigations -- of the 75, 53 require no further action. And we're on track to complete the remaining preliminary assessment and site investigations by 2023. And as Richard mentioned, he was talking about appropriations. All of our preliminary assessment site investigations are under contract already. So, we will not be held up in our forward progress by the lack of appropriation right now in '22.
We also have 27 remedial investigations underway. As a result of all of these assessments, we've identified exceedances of the EPA health advisory, at -- in off-installation drinking water at six locations, outside of six of our installations. And in each of those instances, we've acted very quickly to provide alternative water to the affected residents.
Sorry, I apparently muted myself, I'm not sure how much of that you didn't hear. So, I'll step back for a second just to make sure we're square. And just start with, we've identified exceedances of the EPA health advisory in outside of six of our installations, and we have acted very quickly to provide bottled water. And then we are also working with the homeowners along with state and local health and AP -- or state local health regulatory authorities to ensure and, as quickly as possible, provide long-term solutions and that could be connecting people to utility, it could be providing a home filtration system, but we are working very quickly, and we react very quickly once we get those results back.
This middle column really focuses on our on-installation drinking water. And since 2 Sep 2016 when EPA issued their health advisory, we started regularly testing our water systems for PFAS. Through this regular testing process, we did identify 17 of our Army owned drinking water systems. 13 different installations had exceedances of PFAS above the EPA's Health Advisory. Those 17 drinking water systems have been corrected either through connection to city systems, through filtration systems or through blending. So we do not at this point in time have any drinking water systems on our installations that exceed the EPA Health Advisory.
And we do have policies in place and we are continuing regular sampling of our drinking water for PFAS as well as other chemicals required by the Safe Drinking Water Act and the States. And we will continue to monitor that to ensure that we do not have anyone living or working on our installations drinking water with PFAS above the health advisory.
And then just this last column is about our mitigation efforts. And while we talk about PFAS, we recognize that AFFF is the most common source of PFAS in the military. We no longer use AFFF for testing or training. It is approved only for use in emergency response. And when we do have to use AFFF we treat it as if it was a spill in order to limit our environmental effects. And so you can see the inventory we have here, the number of firefighting vehicles as well as the number of our facilities that have AFFF. We are in the process of developing a replacement plan. And as long as we have an approved replacement for fluorinated AFFF, we will meet the congressional prohibition by 2024.
Bottom line for us is we are committed to being transparent about our cleanup progress in expanding our public outreach. We are taking steps to make our data particularly the data concerning PFAS cleanup, drinking water data more accessible. To that end, we've launched two new PFAS websites in July of 2021. You can see those on this chart as well. One hosted by the U.S. Army environmental command. If you want PFAS information on any of our active duty locations, or reserve locations, our BRAC sites, you can go to that website and find that data. And then the -- I'm sorry, the Army National Guard also hosts a PFAS website for their own data. And so you will continue to see updates to that as we get additional information, as we continue to make progress through the CERCLA process.
Our priority really it remains the health and safety of our service members of our families, our civilians in the community surrounding our installations. And we are going to use scientifically supportable data to assess the risk to human health and environment. And we're going to continue to prioritize and address sites where risk to human health is the highest. So I appreciate your time tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with an update where the Army is today with addressing PFAS, and I look forward to your questions in the next session. Thank you.
STAFF: Thank you, ma'am. I'm going to close out of this here. So, we're done sharing. Mr. Ohannessian, over to you.
KARNIG OHANNESSIAN: Thank you, Peter. Peter, did you receive any attachments from me that you could put up? If not, I could see if I could put it up on the screen?
STAFF: Sir, I did not – I don’t believe it was sent to me --
MR. OHANNESSIAN: That's okay. I'll try to do it myself.
But first, let me introduce myself. I'm Karnig Ohannessian, I'm the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment and Mission Readiness. I've been in this position since January 2016. And so I've been working on our PFAS Response since EPA came out with the Lifetime Health Advisory in May of 2016. I'm going to see if I can bring up…
Peter, was I successful in bringing up my screen?
STAFF: Yes, sir, you were.
MR. OHANNESSIAN: There should be a USA map on the screen. And this map shows the locations where we looked for drinking water impact on others off our installation. So just like the Army we are, we have a multi-pronged approach. The first is making sure that the drinking water is safe, whether that's on our installations or off and this map is about our off installations because that is of high interest to the members of the community. And, of course, we are also engaged in the longer term environmental cleanup part of the action that's the longer term of the impact on soil or groundwater, in the environmental, from environmental releases. And we are also working with our colleagues in the military departments and the Department of Defense on finding a suitable replacement for fluorinated firefighting agents. I think we have in the Department of the Navy, which is Navy and Marine Corps more than 800 facilities and about 1300 or more mobile units like trucks and so forth.
But I do like this map because it shows that there are locations where we impacted people off our installations. And you can see numbers, and this is on our website and the website, you can see the websites in the screen, but you can even Google it, if you look for the Department of the Navy factsheet. This is part of our factsheet. And you can see on this map that there are locations where we have found that we have in fact impacted either private drinking water wells off our installations, or public drinking water wells where a water purveyor uses that well to provide water to the community.
And in all of the locations where we have found our impact, so we have gone in and the first response is bottled water. But that's only an interim measure, that's a temporary measure. And then we have either converted people to permanent sources of alternative water, or we've built treatment systems on those impacted water wells. Or we're in the middle of converting people to permanent systems, because sometimes it takes a little longer than others.
So this is a depiction that you can find on the web of our drinking water response. And then I'm scrolling down in the fact sheets, and this part shows not the drinking water piece but the environmental cleanup piece. And just like the Army and the Air Force, we are engaged in the CERCLA process. Starting with the preliminary assessment and site investigation. We've done a lot of those. We're still doing a lot of those. We're also doing remedial investigations, which are a lot more intensive. That's where you find the nature and extent of the contamination and estimate the fate and transport of the material. And we have 148 installations where we have a known or suspected releases of PFOS or PFOA and we say or suspected because sometimes we don't have a sample that tells us that, but we do have folks who used to work there who can tell us look, I remember we used to do firefighter training there. And we used to use AFFF there. And I know that we used it there and we used it on the ground. So, we add all of those into our list. And when we add all of that up, that comes out to 148 installations.
And the in the fact sheet, you can also see our expenditures over the years. And just like Mr. Kidd said, resourcing has not been a constraint for us from the beginning. So we have full congressional support and support from the Navy and the Marine Corps to make sure that that is not the issue that we are in fact fully resourced to go after it as fast as we can. And I’ll stop there. And I look forward to your comments.
Peter, I'm going to see if I can figure out how to unshare now. And hopefully that works.
STAFF: Okay, that's 100 percent, well done. Thank you, sir. All right, Mr. Sample over to you for the Air Force.
JIM SAMPLE: Well, thank you very much. Hello, my name is Jim Sample. And first off, I want to thank you all for joining us this evening. Rather than talk about details of my work, and we can get into all those questions, I'd like to talk about philosophy a little bit. As Mr. Kidd mentioned, I'm sitting as the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure with recent retirement of Mr. Mark Correll. I've been in this position for just about a month now.
You'll find in military organizations, we have a pretty good turnover for leadership and when leadership comes in, the first step is a whole bunch of in-briefs, most important topics that they're going to be dealing with. My position we're in charge, I'm in charge of billions of dollars in military construction, the Air Force Energy Program, but this was the number one topic that was I was briefed on when I came in just over a month ago. This was the top of the list. The department the Air Force is committed to protecting the health and safety of our airmen, our guardians, their families, the communities where we serve today, and where we have served in the past.
As such, the department's first priority is to ensure that no one is drinking water above the EPA's health advisory, where the Air Force has been the known source. Every congressional or public response I've written or improved since I've been in the position for a little bit of time starts with that statement. This is to emphasize both to the public and to my own department and people that work with me how important that statement is, and I will continue to ensure that remains true.
While this statement addresses the immediate issue, I do empathize with all of you that have expressed concerns about the length of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, process or CERCLA that has been mentioned. While we are working this as rapidly as possible, the length of time of this process can be frustrating. I do ask for your patience as we work through this.
That time also does allow us to implement a methodical science driven approach that will lead to the most effective long term cleanups that we all want. I do also need to note as we go through this, with my relative newness in this position, during the QA period, I'm going to rely heavily on Ms. Kathryn Lynnes, my expert on this issue, I want to make sure you have the most comprehensive and best answers to all these questions.
And with that, pretty simple, I think we should look forward to listening to your concerns and questions. Thank you.
STAFF: Thank you, sir, I appreciate that. We are going to move next into the public presentations. And I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't mention that I got the order wrong. You were all supposed to be given that opportunity to present before we heard from the services. So I will take the hit from that, for those of you who are in the previous session, we know that I owe Mr. Kidd, several more push ups. So with that on our list tonight, first in the presentations from your groups is Mr. Anthony Spaniola from Need Our Water and also one of the leaders from NPCC. Mr. Spaniola, I turn it over to you.
ANTHONY SPANIOLA: Thank you, Peter, and thank you to Mr. Kidd and the Department of Defense for the opportunity to speak today. And for responding to community requests for a later start time and for speaking presentations, I appreciate that very much.
I'm Anthony Spaniola and among other things, I'm a Founding Member of the Need Our Water community group in Oscoda, Michigan, which is the home of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Wurtsmith is the first U.S. military installation in the world at which PFAS contamination was publicly reported in 2010, nearly 12 years ago, though the federal government knew of the contamination at least as early as 1999. Because we are the first there are many lessons to be learned from our experience. But to learn and improve from those experience, there must be an honest review and acceptance of the problems that have and continue to unfold.
Unfortunately, that has not occurred as yet. And neither the Air Force nor DOD have yet demonstrated a willingness to engage in an honest review or assessment. Mr. Kidd, I know that you are new, and that you are attempting to engage with communities, and I applaud you for that effort. But it pains me to tell you and the other new leadership at the Pentagon that information and characterizations from within DOD about its PFAS program at Wurtsmith and elsewhere contain fundamental and substantial inaccuracies. For example, DOD has not moved swiftly to address PFAS at military installations. At Wurtsmith, we are nearly 12 years into the current investigation, and there is still no overall plan in place to clean up the contamination. DOD has not acted proactively at Wurtsmith, and its recent promises to conduct two partial interim cleanups came only after multiple interventions from our members of Congress in the face of prolonged Air Force resistance.
Over the investigation, the Air Force has excluded Municipal Officials from critical base closure team meetings, reversing its long standing practice of inclusion, and it has excluded the public and members of the local RAB from decision making discussions including most recently the pending remedial investigation plan that is being developed in secret. As another example, the Air Force promised in writing to comply with Michigan's groundwater surface water regulation for PFOS and PFOA in 2017, and then reneged on that promise, a promise that remains unfulfilled to this day. The Air Force, as another example took the position at one point that it's contaminated groundwater flow to the edge of a local lake, but then magically turned around and went the other way.
Only after inordinate delays that the Air Force finally admitted the obvious that it was contaminating the lake. There are numerous other examples and a small ray of hope in our new project manager that I had planned to discuss today. However, after reading DOD's responses posted yesterday, to the October 2021 community questions, I briefly shift my focus there, and in particular to the response to question 30 in which the Air Force inaccurately asserts that "it is not aware of data which would support the assertion that veterans and their families at Wurtsmith were drinking water with very high levels of PFAS."
In fact, the Air Force is fully aware of a study conducted by the state of Michigan of preserved hydrant water at Wurtsmith. This study based on the Air Force's own modelling, provided what one scientist described as "solid evidence," that service members and their families drank highly contaminated PFAS water at the base. The study and all of its data were delivered to the Air Force and were the subject of public discussion as early as 2016.
In addition, the Air Force is well aware that water wells which supplied drinking water to the base, were located in some of the most highly contaminated PFAS plumes on the base, and that service members who ate fish from the river adjacent to the base, as many of them did, were also exposed to highly contaminated fish now considered unsafe for consumption. On top of the direct exposures that many of them had to the PFAS foam itself.
If DOD were acting proactively, it would be working with the VA to track down Wurtsmith veterans and to test and assist them, delays caused harm. Instead, those veterans have faced roadblocks, red tape, and unjustified denials while suffering from debilitating health conditions.
Our service members and their families deserve far better than this. And our host communities deserve far better as well. With new leadership at the Pentagon, we have a chance to make the PFAS program what it should be, but it's going to take a fundamental new outlook and approach. My community stands ready to help make this happen. So I hope the DOD will accept these criticisms in the spirit intended. We cannot afford any further delays or inaction. Thank you.
STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Spaniola, we appreciate your comments today. And I'm sure we're going to get to some of these concerns during the QA after all of the presentations.
Next up on our list is Kristin Mello from WRAFT.
KRISTEN MELLO: Hi, thank you so much for this opportunity to speak with you about PFAS contamination, in my community. I would like to ask that someone please forward me those answers because I did not receive them. The answers from October so I would appreciate that. Thank you.
Excuse me. My name is Kristen Mello, I'm the Director of Westfield Residents Advocating for Themselves. Westfield, Massachusetts is in the western half of the state. We have ours out here and is one town north of that little divot in the border between Massachusetts and Connecticut near the Connecticut River. But still, there's also the location of the Barnes Air National Guard Base, home of the 104th Fighter Wing from which my father retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
The base is on land leased by the federal government from the city of Westfield and just happens to be situated on top of the Barnes aquifer from which all of our city's north side municipal and private wells draw drinking water. This is the aquifer that has been permanently contaminated by activities on the base. And for the record, the residents are aware of no offer of alternative water from the Department of Defense, the Air Force or the National Guard Bureau. All mitigation has been on the backs of the victim.
Here in Westfield 42 percent of our 41,000 residents live in environmental justice communities like the one I live in and in attending this meeting from. EJ Neighborhoods encompass much of the city's north side riverfront, floodplains and downtown corridor. Generations of families have been sharing decades long chronic exposure to manmade bio accumulating toxic effects in their drinking water, cord blood and breastmilk.
In our ATSDR exposure assessment where sampling happened nearly four years after we discovered the contamination and mitigated our exposure, 92 percent of Westfield's participants had more PFAS than the national average. Our PFAS serum levels were directly correlated to the contamination of our municipal water supply. And the DOD contaminated water was distributed throughout our entire city. Known immune system toxicants, these chemicals have been associated with depressed immune response to vaccinations and worsened COVID-19 outcomes.
In Massachusetts residents' rights to clean air and water are included in article 97 of our state's constitution. So this contamination is an ongoing violation of our rights. Residents of Massachusetts also have the right to public involvement in cleanup activities at hazardous waste sites that affect our communities. After three years of fighting for participation, we finally established the Barnes Air National Guard Base Restoration Advisory Board this past summer. Although we have over 33,000 pages of expanded site inspection to go over and an open public comment period on our relative risk site assessment, we have been told we cannot apply for a TAP grant because the Secretary of the Air Force still has not signed approval for our RAB for DERP funding.
Is DERP and TAP constrained by the continuing resolution situation and is the Barnes Air National Guard Base RAB considered a new start? Is that why? Because of this issue, we cannot even begin to assess the extent of the PFAS contamination to our priceless and irreplaceable water resources.
In the 2006 land lease between the Department of the Air Force and the city of Westfield page five Part 11, Section G states the government shall be responsible for remediating to the state or federal promulgated standard, whichever is more stringent concerning any soil or water contamination resulting from their activities on the leased premises. I asked first in July, whether or not this was a boilerplate cause likely to be in other community leases and whether or not the DOD would be honoring this lease. Aside from the frustration from continuing this decades-long, slow motion, unfolding multi-generational environmental and public health disaster, the CERCLA process and lack of transparency and information sharing from the department has been frustrating, as frustrating as nailing jello to a wall.
And despite what may have been the best of intentions to December 22, 2021 memo that we received as a response to our question regarding Massachusetts MCL and ARARs is for all practical purposes, just another non-answer from the DOD. There have been blessings along the way. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and our local RAB members from the one 104th - Mr. Richardson and Colonel Halasi-Kun have been responsive and considerate to the Westfield community.
Residents in DOD contaminated communities need to know if there are other DOD PFAS discharge sources beyond AFFF and I'm talking about open burning and munitions and storage and transport. We need to know if the or if DERP funding and grant assistance are actually available. And we need that assistance before we are asked for public comment. Relative risk site evaluations containing site comparisons with reasoning so that we can understand where the resources need to go and why would be more respectful of our experience and intelligence than just receiving our own report, and not understanding how the numbers compare.
Real time data and results sharing, we need that because we have a right to know the information. Even if your reports and narratives are still in draft form, we have a right to the data and results. And most of all, we need recognition of our rights and our challenges, as though it were you and your family suffering this nightmare.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share this with you. I hope you can use my testimony to create real and substantial change for DOD contaminated communities everywhere. And I please ask that we also keep in mind the severe contamination from Peterson Air Force Base, because Mark Favors could not join us tonight because he is a nurse in a hospital in New York City and he's fighting the COVID pandemic. Thank you.
STAFF: Thank you, Ms. Mello and I appreciate your heads up on Mark Favors and certainly send our thanks to him for all of his hard work through the current issues we're all dealing with.
Next up on our list is Rick Abraham with the Environmental Action Network. Rick, are you there? Mr. Abraham are you with us? Okay, we will move on. Up next is Ms. Andrea Amico from Pease Portsmouth and the NPCC, over to you.
ANDREA AMICO: Hello, good evening. My name is Andrea Amico. I live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is home to the former Pease Air Force Base and has now been redeveloped into the Pease Tradeport, which is a large industrial business park. I moved to Portsmouth in 2017 and started a family in 2011. My husband took a job at the Pease Tradeport for a business located there and we sent our two oldest children to a daycare center right next door, and where my husband was working. And I -- my life changed forever when I learned in May of 2014 that high levels of PFAS had been discovered in the drinking water wells at the Pease Tradeport which is where my husband was working every day and my two young children were attending daycare. And I have worked tirelessly since then to try to better understand how this exposure first of all happened and how high levels of contaminants went undetected in the drinking water for so long at the Pease Tradeport. And how these contaminants are going to affect the health of my family, especially my young children who drank the water while at daycare at very young ages and critical windows of their development.
I've seen a lot of action in my community and for that I'm deeply grateful. My state health department in New Hampshire offered a blood testing program in 2015 that showed high levels of PFAS in the community's blood which then led us to work with ATSDR and established the first in the nation PFAS health study at Pease -- the pilot study, which is the model for seven other sites that are going to undergo a national PFAS health study. So I'm super grateful for that and looking forward to more answers from those efforts.
I'm also really grateful to the Air Force, so far, as at least as of May of last year, they had spent over $65 million at Pease in remediating PFAS in the groundwater and installing filtration on drinking water which is critically important. And I'm grateful for that. But I recognize as a leader here in New Hampshire and Portsmouth, as well as a national leader in the national PFAS Contamination Coalition, that the action that has been taken in my community is not what is being done at many other communities in the country. Frankly, a lot more needs to be done for other communities, and many communities have received no action and have been given no answers. And so that is why I continue to advocate and speak out because I want to see other communities also receive remediation and blood testing and filtration of the water and opportunities for health studies.
And, frankly, more answers because we didn't ask for this contamination, we didn't willingly sign up for it. You know, millions of us have been exposed to PFAS, no fault of our own, yet we're left with so many unanswered questions and lack of action, and it's incredibly frustrating. And so, I would like to just say that I have a few tips that I'd like to leave with DOD in this setting here. And really what I'd like DOD to know, is that communities really do act with a sense of urgency. My contamination was found in 2014. We heard from Mr. Spaniola, Michigan was found in 2010. Why is it taking so long to investigate and come up with a plan? You know, like, we know, AFFF had PFAS in it, there should be a much more accelerated process in terms of identifying this contamination and working to come up with a plan and I just urge you to please act with a stronger sense of urgency.
I also want to really ask DOD to use the funds you have to address PFAS, make it a priority. This has impacted every state in the nation and beyond. We've heard from communities in Okinawa, in Germany who have also been impacted by U.S. military activities. This is a widespread public health issue. And it has, as Kristen Mello mentioned public health implications when PFAS suppresses the immune system and can make vaccines less effective or some vaccines less effective as we face a global pandemic. You know, that's a really big concern, especially in communities that have known PFAS contamination.
And also to Mr. Spaniola's point, we need DOD to acknowledge the timeline of what they knew, when and own their past mistakes and missteps. DOD knew of the harms of PFAS years ago and should have and could have done more to stop the use of AFFF and to investigate the impacts of AFFF and what they had on their own servicemembers and families, the local communities that hosted them, drinking water and the environment. This is critical for accountability and for moving forward, and the lack of ownership only fractures relationships with communities and further causes worsening mistrust.
DOD needs to collaborate with communities. Meet with us like you're doing, listen to us. I want to echo Mr. Spaniola's thanks for changing the time of this meeting, creating more opportunities for listening. That's very important. This is a very good step in the right direction. By doing this, DOD will understand the real problems from the people on the ground who are facing these issues, so they can implement meaningful changes. I also want to add an emphasis to environmental justice communities, to be sure that DOD is providing resources and technical assistance as they have been disproportionately harmed.
Lastly, I'm sorry, two more points, as Mr. Kidd mentioned in his testimony at the December 9 hearing, you know, there's talk of adding some training into RABs. And trying to improve the RAB process. The RABs absolutely need an overhaul, and they need improved processes to make them much more meaningful for community members. In our coalition, we speak to many community members that have RABs and they're not a productive process. They're often filled with mistrust and hostility. There's not a lot of collaboration going on there. So I would like to offer to DOD, to please, if you are going to implement training and try to revamp the RAB process in any way, please work with community partners that have been part of RAB’s so we can really help you understand what's not working well. And what would help make that process better. Because really, the RABs are the local communities' direct communication and interactions with DOD. So it is critically important that those processes are improved, and they are more meaningful.
I also want to stress that being transparent about all PFAS data is critically important. Oftentimes, DOD will just talk about PFOA and PFOS. I've heard it tonight from some of the leaders on the call saying, no one's drinking, you know, water above the EPA's health advisories. Well, a couple of things. The health advisories, frankly, aren't protective enough. You know, they're not. In my State of New Hampshire, they've lowered the standards much, much lower than the EPA's advisories and they've made them MCL. And they've made them regulations. And so most communities are comfortable with 70 parts per trillion for just PFOA or PFOS. But also, communities should have a right to know all the PFAS that is found in their drinking water at any site. But particularly if DOD is doing investigations and they're testing water, they shouldn't just report to the community PFOA and PFOS and above 70 or below, you should be giving the community the whole picture. You should be letting them know every PFAS that's within their water so they can make informed decisions about if they want to drink that water or not. Because frankly, I don't know, any community member who feels 70 parts per trillion for two PFAS is okay.
And lastly, I'll just say that I know DOD has collected the PFAS levels and blood of DOD firefighters. And I would really like to know more about how DOD is using that information to be proactive. As I mentioned ATSDR is doing multi-site health studies across the nation. We know NIOSH is looking at firefighters and PFAS and health studies there. And so just to collect this information is a good first step. But using that information to be proactive, not only in trying to determine if there's any trends and health effects with that information, but also to educate the firefighters themselves about PFAS exposure, how they can reduce their exposure, potential health effects that have been associated with PFAS. I recognize there is a lot, we don't know, but there's a lot we do know, and I think there’s an opportunity with PFAS blood data for the firefighters that DOD could be doing more to be proactive to protect the members.
With that, I thank you very much. And really look forward to continuing engagement with DOD and sharing the community perspective and how we can work together to address this massive issue. Thank you so much.
STAFF: Thank you, Ms. Amico. Next up on our list, Ms. Laurie Nehring from PACE.
LAURIE NEHRING: Okay, are you hearing me?
STAFF: We can hear you Laurie.
LAURIE NEHRING: All right, I'm trying to -- I'm trying to get my camera. There we go. Okay. Thank you.
I want to express my appreciation for the speakers who were just before me, Anthony, Kristen and Andrea. I've admired your work for a long time, and I know more about Andrea and Kristen's work than Anthony, but I want to echo and highlight some of the things that they said and just add a few comments of my own.
First of all, I'm in Massachusetts, I'm not far from Kristen -- I'm kind of halfway between Kristen and Andrea, actually, about the former Fort Devens. Our issue with PFAS is also from firefighting foam, mainly, although it seems to be from other sources as well.
And what Andrea just said, I could highlight and mimic the same thing, and that I heard a lot of discussions earlier today and all along about the focus of EPA Health Advisory on PFOS and PFOA. And we know that there are many other PFASes that are equally or perhaps even more damaging. And when we have high levels of the other contaminants, and they're essentially ignored. And we look at being protective in the communities, that's not providing that the safety that I believe that the military, the Army and the Department of Defense wants to provide. So that goes directly to something that was stated earlier, by -- I believe by Amy, wonderful presentation.
The focus on AFFF to develop alternatives is nice. However, those alternatives I believe, are just putting in shorter chain fluorinated compounds, which could be equally or more hazardous. And I would like to question the need to, what do we call it, the performance standard is what the Army is basing this on. So before we knew about PFAS, we could still put out fires that had oil and gas issues with them, maybe it was a little bit slower. But there's a trade-off here if we're trying to put them out seconds faster. For the sake of we can do it so we should do it, is that really worth it when we look at the hazards that keep getting into the environment by, we continue to create these compounds and they continue to get into the environment.
I know that all of us are following the news. And every time we open the newspaper and look in our email box, there's new products that we find that are out there and we're all being exposed to PFAS. The latest thing I heard is a researcher whose daughter was wearing a mask at school, her glasses kept steaming up. And so she bought some spray that was supposed to defog her glasses and the researcher knew enough to look at the ingredients in South Florida in a compound and the ingredients and had the means to have it tested. And sure enough, she's using PFAS contaminated sprays on her daughter's glasses.
So when we know it's in the products, we need to stop using them. We need to find acceptable ways of dealing with our world in different ways. So I'd like the Army, I'd like to ask the Department of Defense to relook at is it really necessary to put out fires in 10 seconds rather than 12 seconds or whatever that performance measurement is.
Anthony clearly mentioned being excluded from data and I think Andrea did as well, during the RAB meetings. We have RAB meetings. We used to have them monthly, now they're quarterly. We are not getting the documents we used to get. We are not having the conversations we used to be able to have. We used to be able to sit in on various technical meetings. And we're fortunate that we have a technical advisory grant from EPA, we've been able to have an environmental consultant representing the town of Ayer local community for all these years. And in the last two years something has changed. And it's not for the better.
We are no longer allowed to have -- to sit in on the technical meetings. So it means we don't hear about the decisions that have been made for the remedial work until the decisions have been made, so we have no input until we’re way down the road. And that's not right. The CERCLA process takes a long time. Yes, we should be involved in it all along, and we are not right now. And that's seriously problematic.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that we do understand the CERCLA process. We know it's time consuming and frustrating. We're trying to be patient. And meantime, you know, you've already heard a lot of people are being exposed to PFAS chemicals, fluorinated chemicals.
In the response from the last meeting, you mentioned that a lot of the response comments about looking at ARARs, the applicable requirements for, excuse me, for each state. And it seems to me to be a pretty vague process from my perspective of how it's decided that the Department of Defense is going to follow the ARAR for a particular state. And Andrea mentioned, you know, in New Hampshire, also Massachusetts, many states have requirements that are much more stringent than the sort of loose and inconsistent, EPA health advisory. I think we all really know that there needs to be much more -- that that's just the bare minimum. And it's not all that helpful. And so when and how do ARARs get decided on? When does the Army decide to use the state's applicable drinking water standard, as opposed to the health advisory from EPA, I'd like to see that fleshed out more clearly and make a more consistent decision.
I do want to thank the Army, in our case, it is the Army -- they helped the town of Ayer pay for the filtration plant that is up and running. And so our water is no longer being impacted by PFAS. And I believe our plant cost something like $4 million. And the Army did pay for that. And they should have because they contaminated it. So we're hoping more information can be more free flowing, we get more support to get the information we need. Thank you very much for having this meeting. I appreciate the time and the effort here.
STAFF: Thank you, Laurie.
LAURIE NEHRING: You're welcome.
STAFF: We had Rick Abraham, who I called on earlier has now joined. Rick, are you there?
RICK ABRAHAM: Can you hear?
STAFF: Yes, Rick, we can hear you, go ahead with your presentation.
MR. ABRAHAM: Can you hear me? This is Rick, can you hear me?
STAFF: Yes, we’ve got you loud and clear, Rick, go ahead.
MR. ABRAHAM: Okay, sorry about that. My name is Rick Abraham. I'm representing Whidbey Environmental Action Network. My background is worked for the National Toxics Campaign, and I'm hired by lawyers to investigate polluted sites around the country, many of which have been polluted by PFAS. So that's a little history here. Here on Whidbey, we have PFAS contamination, and our sole source aquifer from basically two places, Navy installations here at the base. My comments focus on a place called Outlier Field where the Navy used its firefighting foam and got into the aquifer and has contaminated a whole town's water supply and numerous private wells in the area.
I want to make the case that the Navy needs to do something to stop the migration that they know about on site to keep it from going off site. Chemical plants, refineries, all around the country have taken steps, used available technologies to stop this contamination from moving beyond its boundaries.
Never-ending studies and monitoring don't remove these chemicals. You know, this site has been studied extensively, monitoring wells should consistently show high levels of contamination. They've modelled the groundwater flow. This place was discovered to be contaminated in 2016. Studied but no action. The Navy says that the place may be cleaned up but may not be cleaned up. Interesting that the Navy we believe wants to continue using it for a controversial warfare training which does not enjoy the support of the community.
The other thing I want to talk about is how the Navy is conducting its PFAS investigations. And I'm assuming this is done in other parts of the country in a way that prevents them from identifying the true extent of the plumes of contamination coming from their sites.
After finding PFAS at this site in 2016, the Navy offered to test nearby drinking water wells, but not for all of the PFAS found under its own property. And for the limited number of PFAS it tested for in the community, the laboratory of the detection limits were set so high, they would have missed lower levels of PFAS that were in people's water. This is exactly how you -- how not to determine how far contamination has spread. And they've used the limited findings of this initial flawed investigation to establish so-called investigation areas and criteria for being eligible for future testing of people's wells.
The next -- the last time people were notified of the opportunity to have their wells tested or retested in Coupeville was 2017, five years ago, and in Oak Harbor, the other polluted place, 2018, four years ago. When the Navy offered a second opportunity to have private wells tested, it didn't offer it to everyone in the investigation, only to contaminated properties and adjacent properties that met certain criteria. This ignores the fact that that pollution -- groundwater contamination moves. Wells not previously showing contamination can become contaminated. Low concentrations once fine can increase, found can increase over time.
Common sense regulatory guidance says wells at risk need to be monitored periodically. This is not being done. The Navy needs to notify well owners and identified areas of investigation that they can have their wells tested for the full range of PFAS. The Navy says that it's -- it will test people's wealth if it asks but people don't know to ask. They're not getting -- they're not getting letters, inviting them to telling them that they can have their wells tested. I've got people in the community calling me wanting to know who in the Navy to contact to get wells tested. That's not the way it's supposed to work.
If information indicates a well outside of one of the investigation areas may be contaminated or at risk, well owners should be given the opportunity to have opportunity, to have their wells tested. Maybe the Navy has been telling people the ground water flow is generally to the south. But if you look at the data on site, wells on the eastern border of the property are increasing in pollution and in groundwater studies the Navy had produced show groundwater flowing beneath communities to the east. And beyond the so called investigation area. These people don't have a clue that they may be at risk. Everything the Navy has been saying indicate that the groundwater flow is to the south and that's where the problem is.
For the DOD to focus on two out of the cocktail of PFAS as people are drinking is unacceptable. The DOD is focused on EPA's outdated health advisory level, while ignoring ATSDR’s minimum risk level makes people feel safe when they aren't. The Department of Defense needs to stop treating PFAS contamination, like a public relations problem and start serving the people that it is sworn to protect.
I've got a detailed report on the situation here. If -- I'd like to know if anyone wanting it, I'll be glad to send it to them. But my question to the Department of Defense officials, if we have specific requests or complaints about our area, to whom -- and request for action, to whom should those requests be addressed?
STAFF: Thank you, Rick. Mr. Kidd, is that something you can address here? Or how would you like to proceed with Rick’s question?
MR. KIDD: So yeah, we've got a structure but we can be a little bit flexible. So Rick, first of all, thanks. I'm a native of Oregon and I learned to scuba dive off of Whidbey Island. So I'm familiar and, you know, really love that terrain up there.
You can feel free to send me your, you know, your in-depth report, in terms of who to raise these issues with. Karnig, would you mind taking that question?
MR. OHANNESSIAN: No, I wouldn't mind at all. So there are Navy officials locally who are doing the cleanup work. And if you're unable to reach them, that's a surprise to me, you should be able to reach them. So I thank you for letting me know that. But that would be my advice. The cleanup people are a good place to reach out. But also the base commanders are a good place to reach out because they will get it to the cleanup people.
Richard Kidd is another good place to reach out. There's no shortage of places to reach out. I'm another place. So it is really important for us to get this information from the public. I am not aware of all the information that you mentioned. I am not aware if our Navy folks in the area are aware of this information or not. I should hope that they are but if they're not we want it and this also touches upon another comment that was made earlier regarding decisions being made. So no, we don't want to make decisions that are not informed by the public. So if we make a proposal, even that proposal needs to be informed by the public, let alone the final decision. And so yeah, you know, we really are looking forward to getting the information, especially if there is information that is contradictory to what we think. Because then that would be really interesting for us to go after it and find out, why is that? Because after all, none of us wants to be at a place where we don't even agree on the facts, right? So it's really important for us to get the information and make sure that we work together to have a common understanding of the problem, and therefore a common resolution of the response action.
RICK ABRAHAM: That sounds good, but understand base commanders and the people on the ground involved in the cleanup, they're not decision makers, they take orders, we've had meetings with the base commander, talk to the cleanup people, they answer to other people. So, if we have a problem with, with what's being done at the local level, we need to know who to talk to over their head, because that's where the complaints have to go.
MR. OHANNESSIAN: So again, Richard, I mean, you can weigh in too, but I'm not sure how to answer that. Because again, there's a lot of places to reach us. So, I'm not quite sure how to, you know, whether the question is about what's the chain of command or not? I'm not sure. So, the only thing I am sure of is, though, is that there's nobody who doesn't want to hear the issues. So, I know that's not as good an answer, because I don't have a name or a telephone number of the person. But we really ought to work together to figure out how we can get your information or complaints, as you mentioned.
RICK ABRAHAM: Put some addresses in the notes that you send out about this meeting where people might -- for the different branches of service -- where people might send, make requests for action, that would be appreciated.
MR. OHANNESSIAN: Okay, that's a really good idea, in my opinion.
RICK ABRAHAM: Thank you for your time, I've got to go, folks, I would love to have a list of people, be in contact with other people, other communities who are going through these problems, we need to be talking amongst ourselves as a group, and I would welcome an opportunity to know who these people are. Thank you for your time, those who put this together.
MR. KIDD: Hey, Rick. So if we can't get it -- I think rather than put it in the chat box of this meeting, which will have sort of a limited lifespan, give us a couple days, and we'll put that up on the website, appropriate points of contact for each of the services in the department headquarters, where communities can take PFAS issues.
RICK ABRAHAM: Thank you so much.
STAFF: All right. Thank you, Rick. Mr. Kidd, I'm going to start with you quickly. Obviously, a lot of important issues brought up in the presentations from our public groups, would you like to start and I think we ought to turn this over to some of the services that can address some of the specific points, and then take some more questions.
MR. KIDD: Yeah, so first of all, so Anthony, Kristen, Andrea, Rick, Laurie, thank you for, you know, making yourself available tonight and for sharing, you know, your impressions on this issue. You know, as a, you know, as a father and a son and, you know, community member and a veteran, some of your stories are hard to listen to, I got to tell you that, right? There hard to listen to and it makes me realize that we can and should be doing more. And, you know, that's something I'm aware of.
You know, there were some bright spots, some examples in the story, where, you know, the Army's provided filtration systems up at Fort Devens, someplace I've been, or for the Air Force at Pease, we've had, you know, some examples of not so successful community engagements that have gotten better because of, you know, new staff and new people. So it's, you know, it's my commitment to try to go after those best practices and bright spots and try to make those more common across, you know, a pretty big effort of 700 installations across the -- 700 sites across the United States.
Yeah, so I guess, you know, just thank you, I listened, I took lots and lots of notes. And, you know, while I've heard some of this before, you know, frankly, it's good for me to hear it again. So I appreciate that. I can -- you know, I don't know, Peter, if you want me to try to go back to my notes and try to answer all of the questions or comments, or maybe we just open it up for questions. Maybe we just go around the batting order again, or if there's others out there who haven't asked a question or somebody wants to ask a specific question, either of me of the service members, why we -- service representatives, why don't we do that? Okay. And we can just -- Peter, again, I'll let you chaperone and take those questions. It's a hard job, but I know you can do it.
STAFF: Yes, sir. I think that's a great approach as well. I mean, I know some issues were spotlighted to the services, but in our remaining time, because I know we'll provide responses to any of the questions we receive here. I think if we open the floor to questions, that might be a great way to take advantage of the time we have left. I would ask anybody who's interested in asking questions, you can use the raise your hand function so that we don't all start talking at the same time. And I'll do my best to lower your hand and that's your opportunity to ask the question. So anyone else out there interested in asking questions, please let us know via that function.
Okay, first is Cheryl Cail.
MR. KIDD: Cheryl, you're on mute.
Q: The camera and I forgot to turn on mute, off the mute.
So -- yeah, going back to the National Defense Authorization Act Section 345, the requirement for DOD to publicly disclose drinking water results. My concern in the community that I’m in and just to back up – I’m in Myrtle Beach. And I live within minutes of the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, which is now called Market Commons. So, the area here, based on the former remediation efforts, it was shut down in 2018 as a successful transition. And then very shortly after, the wells on site were found to be the fourth worst contaminated DOD site in the nation. So at this point in time when the public disclosure does not seem to be going across from DOD to our state, at least I'm seeing a lot of inconsistencies. My question is, as this public disclosure happens, is that going to be just to the local entities, or will that be available actually to the public?
MR. KIDD: So thanks. So from the Section 345 requirement, and going back to the calls for transparency, the intent is to put this information up on our website. So it will be available to all concerned. We're going to do our best, and that's going to be probably the hardest one of these to meet, given the requirements, propagate regulations, and then get all the local sights on track to report but we hear you and we hear your congressional representatives on the issue of transparency and we're going to work hard to get this done. Thank you.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: All right, thank you. Next up with a hand is Laurie Nehring.
Q: I think I'm there. Okay. I just, you just mentioned putting the information up on the website. And as great as that sounds, we do have access to a website. And I have a specific example, that of something that happened just this week where I am trying to find groundwater and sediment contamination information on a specific site called Grove Pond. And I went to the website that I was told to go to, and I cannot find it. So I'm not sure how to make this better. But when you say the solution is go to the website, first of all, people have to know that the website is there. And then it's oftentimes not very easy to find the specific information. And at least I can say, in our case, for Fort Devens that what’s on the website is very selective and very non-inclusive.
MR. KIDD: Laurie, you just -- you went back on mute.
Q: I didn't touch anything. I don't know what happened. So I was saying, there is another more comprehensive website that we have been in the past given permissions to, but holy cow, you would need a Ph.D. and more to understand how to find anything in that website. Again, I put in very simple information, the name of the pond, I can't find anything. It's not user-friendly, accessible stuff. So I don't know the solution. But I wanted to point out the problem. That saying go to the website, it's all there, doesn't always help us, often times it doesn't help us. But that maybe you need to incorporate librarians to help you or something, get people to help with the design and have them test it out because it's not that easy to use these websites. Thank you. That's what I wanted to say.
MR. KIDD: All right, Laurie, thanks, no it's -- so, I understand the website needs to be, you know, all the things around data needs to be more current. It needs to be searchable. It needs to be more user-friendly.
MR. KIDD: I acknowledge all of those comments.
MS. BORMAN: Hey, Richard, this is Amy, if I could just jump in real quickly. So Laurie, I really appreciate those comments and the other comments that you made and the data and accessibility of the data is a conversation that we're having in our own office. And I agree with you while the data is there, there is a lot of information to go through. And so we are looking at bringing on perhaps out librarians, but that's a really interesting suggestion. We are looking at bringing on some folks who can help us work through this data and figure out how we can better present the information so, it's readily usable or perhaps readily -- more readily understandable by anybody who looks at it. So we are tracking that and we are taking that to heart and we are looking to make some changes to the way in which we're sharing our data. And your comments, really emphasize how I feel about our data as well. So I do appreciate you sharing them.
STAFF: Okay, thank you, Laurie, thank you Ms. Borman. Next with a hand up is Andrea Amico.
MS. AMICO: Thank you very much. Mr. Kidd, I raised in my presentation the need for, you know revamping the RABs and your comments regarding putting money into or resources into training in -- within DOD to improve RABs and I just wanted to note a letter from January 20, signed by four senators, Senator Maggie Hassan, Senator Jacky Rosen, Senator Gary Peters and Senator Thomas Carper. Secretary Austin who also included some of the comments from the December 9 hearing in which myself and Mr. Tony Spaniola testified at as well as you. I'm just wondering if you could expand a little bit on your comments in that hearing about what you had in mind in terms of training and resources for the RABs. And if you have given any thought into including communities in that process, so we can make sure that we can work together to make that process meaningful, not only for DOD, but for impacted communities as well.
MR. KIDD: Andrea, thanks for the comment. And in raising the issue of the letter. I think RABs are an area where we can make some immediate improvement, you know, as much as this these conversations at this level are, you know, I believe the most important communication is that which occurs at the installation level. You know, I think it's great that the representatives from each of the services are here, I think if you were to dig down across the services, you would find examples of great RABs that are working well with their communities and have a healthy dialogue, and I think you would look and probably find some examples where there's room for improvement.
And so I think it's good as the Service Deputy Assistant Secretaries have heard your comments, I think your idea about involving communities, when we look at a best practice guide, and a way to improve it is getting those in your advanced questions. And that's really, really spot on, and something that we intend to do. So at OSD, we are going to do a best practice analysis, we're going to update that sort of, to go with our guide. So we have a published sort of book out there, but we want to update that. And then we want to incorporate training, each of the services have their own procedures, their own quality control, and other activities. And if any if my DAS colleagues wanted to, you know, they could jump in here, I have seen the letter from the four senators waiting for it to get through the executive tasking process, it will land in our office. And I -- my intent is to attach a cover letter to that and send it to the service secretaries, just reminding them of how important the RAB process is. I don't know if any of the DAS’s want to jump in here on RABs?
MR. OHANNESSIAN: I could jump in a little bit more. Because I'm -- I think we're getting a lot of good feedback. And the reason is, and one of the reasons I say good feedback is that some of the feedback is surprising me, which is good. That means that I did not know and that's the whole point of being together, right, to learn these things. For example, when Rick Abraham was talking about, you know, the decision makers aren’t there, that surprises me, because from my office, we have delegated that decision authority to the local level. And there are, in fact, professionals there who have authority to sign CERCLA decision documents. And so when I hear they're not there to, it's incongruent with what I know. So that means I have to find out what's going on, right? Because that doesn't sound right. And that's not what we want. So this feedback is really important, because from my point of view, it could look like it should be working. But I hear from actual experience, hey, that's not working here in this spot. And so it's incumbent on us to find out, why not, the design is good, it works very well in a lot of places over decades. Why is it not working in a place or a number of places, like it's designed and intended, right? And so this oversight, again, from us and others is going to be really important. Because we do want to rededicate ourselves to making it work.
I have confidence in it. I've seen it work. And so it's not hopeless, it's hopeful. But it is disconcerting to hear that sometimes it's not working, it's working badly or not working at all, well, then it is up to us to find out why not because that is definitely not the design or the intention or the wants of any of us, in my opinion.
Q: Hi, this is Kate Lynnes from the Air Force. And I'd like to reiterate some of the things that, you know, my fellow service members have just said as well. But particularly Kristen and Andrea, I really took your comments to heart, and I've been listening in, that's the joy of things being virtual, I guess that I've been able to listen into some RABs and other communities. As I, you know, I'm new to this position here. And I've seen some that, you know, I could see the communication is not quite working the way it's supposed to. And then somewhere it looks like there's really a lot of trust. And, you know, people may not always agree, but they have trust with each other. And I also totally heard you Ms. Mello, when you talked about how difficult it is to get a 30,000 page document, and not have any ability to really review it in a timely manner. So, you know, I heard you on that too.
And I really want to work with our folks to make this and make the RAPs as productive as possible, as interactive as possible, as valuable as community members who are putting in their time and effort on something so important. We owe you that respect. And we will do that. And I look forward to your comments. I look forward to working with you and improving this process and making it better. Because I think this is the best way for us to communicate is through the RAB. So I'm looking forward to it. We've heard you. I look forward to, you know, working with the secretary's office on training and everything. And I hope to get to meet you in person one of these days.
MS. MELLO: Thank you very much.
STAFF: Mr. Kidd, we've got another question from Laurie. But I also noticed, and I want to be mindful of everyone's time we're after 6:30. Did you and the other senior leaders wish to continue? Or should we look at moving to any taken questions via email?
MR. KIDD: So, hey, Peter, look, we're here, we're in, I'm going to stay. I'm not going to compel my other service colleagues, you know, its taco night downstairs because I'm not in the Pentagon, because it's late. I can smell the tacos. So at some point I will be overwhelmed. But I am prepared to just stay here and have this discussion, so thanks.
STAFF: All right. Well, from everyone's in agreement. We'll keep going here. Jennifer Hill, who actually just joined us, did you have a question?
Q: I do have a question. And I was actually listening in on my phone. I just got back on my computer. So can you hear me?
MR. KIDD: Yes.
Q: Okay. Thanks so much. Yes, I'm Jennifer Hill. I'm with the National Wildlife Federation, in our Great Lakes office, and I work closely with the Need Our Water Group, and the community in Oscoda, Michigan. And I have a question. First of all, I just want to, I mean, I really appreciate all the comments from the community members and the ability to be able to have a listening session with the Department of Defense. So thank you so much for putting this together. And of course, when we're talking about PFAS, the most important piece that we need to be keeping in mind are people and the impact that it's having on people. And related to that, I did want to ask a question about fish and wildlife as that, you know, fish and wildlife are also being impacted. And, you know, the Department of Defense is one of the largest federal landowners in the country. So I'm really interested in more detail on how the DOD is monitoring, studying and tracking scientific findings that are related to PFAS and fish and wildlife and the natural ecosystems as part of the cleanup of PFAS contaminated military sites. And if that coordination isn't happening yet, I'd really be interested to hear what the plan is and the timeline to better coordinate that science that should hopefully be coming out of these sites that, of course, impacting people, but also the fish and wildlife and water systems that we've been talking about tonight.
MR. KIDD: So, Jennifer did you -- kind of scroll through here, all right, I'll just go from my -- from memory and best response. So, the department through our ESTCP SERDP program is doing a number of ecological toxicology studies on PFAS of various types, as well as any possible replacement for AFFF. And a question whether you submitted or someone else? How much data are we collecting, you know, on wildlife and flora and fauna during the national investigation process? I cannot answer that. I know that we -- excuse me, we share information with EPA. I'm not sure, you know, beyond that what the department is doing. So maybe if someone else wants to help me out here. Otherwise, you know, I can -- I'd like to sort of perhaps get back to you a little bit in writing. But from my perspective, the majority of our work has been in the scientific studies being conducted by ESTCP SERDP program. Over to anyone else who might want to weigh in.
Q: Okay, well, thank you, sir, that would be great to get some more information in writing. And I just think it's really important, as we've been hearing tonight for the Department of Defense, to share the information that they're getting from their sites to help states and others really understand more how fish and wildlife are being impacted, because of course, for things like subsistence hunting and fishing, that has an impact on people as well. So I appreciate you looking into it more, and we'll look forward to hearing back.
MR. KIDD: Yeah, so we are sharing and cooperating with EPA, but this is an area where the EPA, you know, does have the lead. And we -- you know, we make our information available to them as they go about the business of developing ecological risk assessments. So, but we'll give you -- we can try to give you a more detailed answer about how we do that.
STAFF: All right, I took care of that mute button. So, next up we have Linda Robles, who I believe was on the phone and now she's dialed in virtually, and that's for everyone. I apologize. I understand some of you have only dialed in via phone and can't raise your hand via the zoom's platform. So Linda, we'll start with you. Over to you for your question.
Q: Yes. Hi. My name is Linda Robles. I live in Tucson, Arizona, we're dealing with two DOD PFAS installation release sites. And one of the -- one of the only things I have other than every time -- I hear you guys, and I see you guys are doing a great job. I want to say thank you guys, for the work that you're doing out there. I just want to see if maybe it's a possibility that you guys can focus more on public participation and addressing environmental justice at this site? Hello?
MR. KIDD: All right, so Linda, thanks for that. So your comments reinforced once we've heard earlier tonight about environmental justice. And, you know, disproportionately -- you know, communities are disproportionately affected. You know, there's a number of environmental justice activities at the White House. We're being asked to incorporate environmental justice considerations into all our work. And so I appreciate your comments. I note them in I'll make sure that we consider them going forward. Any of my -- any other colleagues want to add anything? Please feel free.
STAFF: All right, thank you, gentlemen. Next, we have Hope -- and I'm sorry if I pronounce your last name correctly, Grosse over to you?
Q: Hope Grove, yeah. Hi, I'm Hope Grosse with -- and I live in Pennsylvania, Buck in Montgomery County and the Willow Grove Air Base, which is the Navy and the Air Force, as well as the Warminster Navy base. So we have two Superfund sites within five miles of each other. And I just want to piggyback on more of the information about the RAB and getting those meetings more transparent in our area. We have a lot of pushback. We -- I don't feel -- I've been part of the RAB now, 2013 we found out about PFAS in our neighborhood. I'm part of Buxmont Coalition for Safe Water. And I've been sitting in RAB meetings for over eight years. And they are painful, very painful. And I don't feel that the community is ever heard. And I know you've heard others, but I just wanted Pennsylvania to be a part of this because it's a problem, I think.
And now that we've gone to the Zoom and been on Zoom for the past, whatever 18 months it's even gotten worse. The system -- you have to type it in the question and if you mistype and they don't understand what you're saying it's truly I don't know, it's just not fun. It's not good. Our community suffers -- we're over 100,000 people. We have PFAS just like everybody else, but I really would hope that you would make these RAB meetings understandable to the public, which I've seen a little bit of a change in the slideshows -- and consistent, because the parts per trillion and the levels would change with different abbreviations through the past eight years and making them consistent so that the public can understand them would be amazing.
In our neighborhood and Willow Grove, we have community members, I'm one of them, and Warminster, Willow Grove, and they don't ask anything of us, they don't give us any extra information or anything. So it's kind of weird, they asked us to be on their committee, but there's never any engagement. And whenever I place emails to the head of these meetings, it takes six months to get an email back. So I just wanted to really throw this out that there are some real issues with these RAB meetings. So I truly appreciate you taking the time tonight to get this resolved, even with results. And we talked about reporting. I mean, reporting is awful in our neighborhoods, sometimes these results are there, they're done and then they hand them in to the librarian in our library, and the librarian was supposed to put them off. I mean, there's just a lot of missing parts. And I feel like as a community member, and many people do is to transparency in getting this information out to the public because it's public health. I mean, as much as we sit in remediation meetings, and they talk about cleanup. If it's not getting cleaned up, we're getting sick, and people are poisoned and getting poisoned, and people have issues.
So I would really encourage some community get together because I also feel like there's gaps between the Navy and the Air Force, you know, the Navy has their report, the Air Force has their report, they're on two different websites, the results, finding this information, I mean, you guys are the Department of Defense and I know there's different branches. But if there's any way that these -- that the Army and the Navy and the Air Force can jointly come together with some simple ways to understand what's happening, that would be highly appreciated. So thank you.
MR. KIDD: All right, yeah, Hope, I mean, you just echoed again, I think, you know, we're going to write up a note and some key takeaways from this session, I think, you know, near the top of the list is clearly that myself and the other leaders here and across the department, we need to take a look at our RABs. And we shouldn't be waiting on any funding that OSD can provide, you know, we're leaders that we can go out there and assess quality and in delivery now, we don't need a contractor to do that. And I think we can all step up and take a look at what we can do within our own purview.
Yeah, frankly, I had to -- I had planned a Valentine's Day surprise. I picked a RAB meeting in February, I was going to fly out and sit in the audience and listen to that meeting -- then got cancelled, but put back on the virtual platform, but I am interested in going out and visiting some of these RABs and seeing them, you know, seeing them in person and some presence. So all right, Hope, thanks for your comments. I think it's a pretty clear message we're getting from all you.
STAFF: All right, thank you. There's four individuals who have dialed in via phone. I just want to give them the opportunity if you have a question, please identify yourself by name, location, organization if you have a question.
Okay. Our last question is from Laurie Nehring who has her hand up.
Q: This is more of a just a comment. Certainly, the RAB meeting seemed to be very uneven, I think some of us are not struggling quite as much as Hope is – sounds like a real nightmare to me.
My comment is that in an ideal world, I think it's very helpful for those of you who are employed by Department of Defense in some fashion or some private organization to recognize and realize that those of us who are citizen, they're mostly volunteers, and that most of us have full time jobs, family obligations, other things going on in our lives. And we are doing the best we can to keep up with the technical reports and the things that happen and to teach ourselves, how to read these reports, how to understand them, how to ask intelligent questions, how to push forward.
I happen to be on a medical leave right now. And I can tell you that, you know, I can sit and read, but I can't do physical things right now. And I've spent pretty much a full -- the equivalent a full time job for the last three weeks, doing things related to PFAS in my community. And it feels just like a full time job. And I can only do it because I happen to be home. So just, you know, please keep that in mind when you need a little more patience to explain again, what parts per trillion mean, or whatever it is. That's all I wanted to say, maybe that's a good note to close on. Thank you.
MR. KIDD: You know, I've worked a lot of tough issues in my day. And I got to tell you, this is near the toughest and the most complex. So you're not alone in your assessment of the challenges in terms of how to absorb and manage information.
All right, Peter, do we have anybody else
STAFF: Sounds like we have someone on the phone, can you please identify yourself and the organization you're with?
Q: Yes, my name is Mark Henry, I'm the co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board for Wurtsmith Air Base. And there's something that's come to my attention that that bothers me in all this. I was on the original restoration advisory board that was held from early 19 -- like 1993, through 1998, just after the base closed. And at that time, the members of the RAB were invited by the Air Force to review all of the technical documents that were generated and actually provide comments to those documents. And I joined the current RAB on Wurtsmith, to find out that that's no longer the case. The Department of Defense or maybe it's just the Air Force had a policy change between then and now. And the RAB is not no longer invited to provide comments to technical documents, unless there are proposals that go out for things like IRAs. In my previous life, before I retired, I was the state regulator, and I worked on Wurtsmith, my history goes back like 28 years on Wurtsmith, and I've seen pretty much all that's gone on during that time.
And I was also in the section of state government that I was working in was the Superfund section. So I'm very familiar with CERCLA. And what I found during my tenure in Superfund is that the remedial investigation phase of the process is the most important part of the CERCLA process for the most part, because that's where all of the data is gathered for the decisions that are going to be made afterward -- the final decisions that are going to be made afterwards.
And I've gone through this now at Wurtsmith. Wurtsmith is halfway through the RI process. And at Wurtsmith, there was absolutely no opportunity to for the citizens to provide any information into the RI work plan development, and thus be able to provide historical information to the contractors or anything else that might guide the RI, that was taken away when the policy changed between the early 90s and now.
And I would recommend that policy be reversed. And that the citizens actually be engaged in the development of the RI work plan, so that the citizens know what work is going to be done and where, and those that have institutional or historical knowledge about what activities took on -- happened as the base during their lifetime, could impart those at the proper time when the development, the plan is being developed. And like right now, we're not going to see -- the RAB is not going to see the RI work plan until almost all of the RI is done. And at that point, we can go back and say you missed this, or you missed that. But it's not the most opportune time to do so.
So my recommendations would need to actually engage the public in the work rather than just lecture the public about the work that's going to be done. Thank you.
MS. LYNNES: Hi, Mark. This is Kate Lynnes from the Air Force and say hi to the sunrise side of the state for me, I haven't been there a long time. I'm a native Michigander from Muskegon. I was not aware of this policy. I will find the answer. And I agree with what you're saying. I mean, the purpose of a RAB is to get the input of the community members. And it has to be done with the input which is so valuable and can make a difference. And the institutional memory particularly someone like you who used to work for – back when it was probably DEQ that input is immeasurable. So let me get to the -- let me find out what's going on and we'll see what we can do.
Q: Thank you very much.
STAFF: Okay, thank you all for that. Considering my time and the fact they have no hands up, Mr. Kidd, I'd like to turn it over to you for any closing comments.
MR. KIDD: No, I don't really have any closing comments. I’d certainly let my colleagues weigh in here. As I said earlier during the transition, I mean, I value this exchange, I learned a great deal. It does help to direct some of my -- more, you know, the more analytical side of my brain which controls me about 98 percent of the time. You know, a little bit of emotion helps guide that and I appreciate all the comments I’ve heard today. So I don't know – Amy, Karnig, Jim -- you're welcome to say something if you want.
MR. OHANNESSIAN: Nothing to add from me, just appreciate everyone's input and the time you made. So thank you for you know making yourselves available to have this conversation with us. And Richard, thank you for organizing so that we're able to do this.
MR. SAMPLE: Yeah, Richard, if I could just hit a few things really quick. I'll do it really quick. As I was taking notes, first off, Tony, you offered the stuff in the spirit that was offered, and we absolutely take it that way. Kristen, one of the benefits of being new is you made a lot of interesting points, I get to go to my staff now and say, okay, is this true? Why does she think this, and we will get back to you on that.
And also, Laurie, all the services are different. And we have different requirements. But I just wanted to -- you could work for the Air Force, you asked a question that we asked about a year ago on fuel firefighting and the Air Force is actually moving away from fuel firefighting to begin with. Now, each of the services has their own requirements and reasons for it. But in DOD, in Air Force facilities, we're for the most part, moving away from fuel firefighting, even path and other systems. So, as a department, we are looking at new ways to do that -- to solve these problems. Thank you. These are the big notes I have. I appreciate everyone's time.
STAFF: Okay, thank you all.
MR. KIDD: Hey, I just -- Ms. Borman, you just muted yourself. There you go.
MS. BORMAN: Okay, here we go. So, again, just to reiterate, you know, I'd really like to thank everyone for their time, I think this listening session was very valuable. There were a lot of examples and a lot of information that came forward, that is certainly going to send me back to our team and start asking some questions. And really looking or looking at whether or not we can do things different or in a better way. And I think a lot of that is going to be starting with and grounding in the RAB because we certainly heard a lot about that today. And we will take a look at how we can help improve and engage. And so just appreciate everybody's time and everybody's comments and thoughts. These types of sessions will only help us get better.
STAFF: Thank you, ma'am. To our senior leaders, thank you so much for taking the time and especially to all our participants today. Both sharing information asking thoughtful, purposeful questions, we really appreciate it. That's the entire intent of these sessions. Just a few quick administrative remarks, we will be posting a transcript of this entire session to www.defense.govforward/PFAS. That's what we call the PFAS spotlight page on defense.gov. And we will also be working to post answers for the pre-submitted questions that you sent us.
And I would also like to say to the additional questions that were asked this evening or any others that have come up that we've not been able to address here, please send them to me, we will include those in responses that we post to the web. We are planning another event in approximately three months, the exact date will be to be determined, but we can expect that going on quarterly for the foreseeable future. Again, thank you all, I appreciate your patience with me as I made some mistakes this evening, but greatly appreciate it and I look forward to our next event together.
Thank you so much. Everyone have a great evening.
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