WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Senator Pat Toomey on Wednesday said he wants a comprehensive human health study to address concerns of water contamination at two military installations in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, announced that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will include two important bipartisan provisions co-authored by him and Democratic colleague Sen. Bob Casey.
The NDAA is an annual bill directing the budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Introduced by Toomey and co-sponsored by Casey, D-Scranton, the health study amendment directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine the health of military service members and residents who may have been exposed to military use of perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) that can adversely affect liver, thyroid, and other organ functions.
“Addressing this issue has been a priority of mine,” Toomey said. “Following initial findings of contaminants in the drinking water in Bucks and Montgomery counties, there were federal efforts to tackle this problem.”
But Toomey said those actions have fallen short of what is really needed to protect the health of Pennsylvanians.
“It is time for the CDC to ensure that appropriate exposure assessments related to any possible contamination in drinking water are completed,” Toomey said.
Casey said it goes without saying that all Pennsylvanians deserve to drink their water without fear of contamination.
“And those who have been directly affected by contamination deserve to know that steps are being taken to ensure their safety,” Casey said. “This amendment would ensure that contamination studies moving forward are informed by biomonitoring so that we know the full scope of health effects and how we can best address them.”
According to information provided by Toomey’s office, the CDC will select for its study no fewer than eight current or former domestic military installations where use of a firefighting chemical known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) contaminated the local environment. AFFF use at Horsham Air Station and the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove are believed to have contributed to elevated PFC levels in ground water. The CDC study is meant to accurately determine if the contamination has led to health problems.
Reducing Russia’s role
A second amendment authored by Toomey and Casey will require the Department of Defense to certify to Congress within four years that the military has reduced its dependence on Russian energy sources for powering U.S. military bases in Europe.
The amendment directs DOD to provide regular briefings on progress. In past years, Toomey said Russia has cut off or limited natural gas supplies to America’s European allies like Poland and Ukraine.
“The DOD needs to take a longer-term look at its energy strategy for all bases in Europe,” Toomey said. “Since many are reliant on energy sourced by Russia, and the threat from that nation is only likely to grow, identifying and addressing vulnerabilities now rather than in a crisis later is a prudent strategic path.”
The two amendments are set to be included in a “manager’s package” of bipartisan amendments that Toomey said have support from an overwhelming majority of senators.
In addition, the NDAA provides a 2.1 percent pay increase for U.S. troops, reforms Pentagon management, and modernizes the Armed Forces with increased troop levels and new equipment purchases.
Final passage of the NDAA is expected in the coming weeks, Toomey said. Differences between House and Senate versions must be resolved before being sent to President Trump to be signed into law.